Environmental ministry wins IDR979 billion in lawsuits against forest and land burners

An area of Palangkaraya that was deliberately burned to clear land for palm oil plantations in 2015. Photo: Alexander Hotz / Coconuts Media
An area of Palangkaraya that was deliberately burned to clear land for palm oil plantations in 2015. Photo: Alexander Hotz / Coconuts Media

Peatland fires in Borneo and Sumatra have flared up again recently after two relatively fire-free seasons, portending a possible recurrence of 2015’s haze crisis. Questions abound over whether the Indonesian government’s policies to prevent the fires, which are often attributed to land clearing efforts traced to palm oil companies, will be successful. But one area the government has already found some success in is bringing legal suits against some of the companies responsible for large scale burnings.

The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry (KLHK) has recently won three major cases against forest and land burners that have been upheld at the appeal level. The total amount the government has won in the lawsuits add up to IDR979 billion (USD 65.7 million).

One case involved PT JJP, which the government sued for illegally burning and damaging thousands of hectares of land in the Rokan Hilir Regency of Riau. On June 28, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that PT JJP was guilty and required to pay compensation and the costs of restoring the environment in the amount of IDR491 billion.

The second case was against a company called PT WAJ that, on August 10, the Supreme Court ruled owed KLHK IDR446 billion for damaging 1,802 hectares of land in two regencies of of South Sumatra.

The third case, decided on August 15 by the Banjarmasin High Court, ruled that PT PU was guilty in connection with the PT WAJ case and ordered to pay the government IDR22 billion.

“We really appreciate the judges of the Supreme Court and the Panel of Judges of the Banjarmasin High Court. These decisions provides environmental justice for the community and the environment itself,” said Rasio Ridho, the director general of law enforcement at KLHK in a press release published to the ministry’s website Saturday.

Despite the legal victories, this year’s increasing number of hotspots in peatland areas that had already been designated conservation zones has led many to worry that the government has not done enough to prevent the burnings. We’re all holding our breath to see if the haze will return.

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