An Indonesian court has ordered a palm oil company to pay almost US$30 million to the state for illegally clearing peatland in a “historic” ruling, government lawyers said yesterday.
The Meulaboh district court on Sumatra island ruled on Wednesday that Indonesian company Kallista Alam had illegally burned vegetation on 1,000 hectares of peatland in Aceh province to clear it for a palm oil plantation.
In the civil case brought by the Ministry of Environment, the court ordered the company to pay 114.3 billion rupiah (HK$73 million) in losses to the state and 252 billion rupiah to rehabilitate the land it destroyed.
The forest was protected under several laws, including a presidential decree suspending new permits to log peatland and some other types of forests across the country.
Using fire to clear land is also illegal. The practice has sent choking haze across parts of Southeast Asia in recent years.
“This is a historic moment for law enforcement on environmental issues in Indonesia. We hope it will deter plantation companies from damaging the environment,” the environment ministry’s lawyer, Syafruddin, said.
The case was seen as a test of the moratorium on logging permits and of reform in the country’s corrupt and mismanaged forestry sector, which has allowed destruction of habitats to plant palm oil and timber.
Environmental groups welcomed the decision, saying it was a sign of improved law enforcement and would set a precedent.
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it,” Friends of the Earth Indonesia chairman Muhammad Nur said.
Indonesia, home to one of the world’s largest expanses of tropical rainforest, is also the world’s biggest palm oil producer.
The company’s lawyer, Alfian Sarumaha, said Kallista Alam would likely appeal the ruling.
Photo Credit : Paul Hilton / Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh
[MEDAN, NORTH SUMATRA] A large demonstration initiated by controversial palm oil company Pt Kalista Alam, who is accused of illegally destroying some of the world’s most important remaining orangutan habitat on the west coast of Sumatra, has disrupted the Meulaboh district court today where the Indonesian Ministry of Environment is prosecuting the company for environmental crimes. The potentially precedent-setting case has received international attention and is being monitored closely by NGOs, scientists, the government and industry alike.
The court was temporarily delayed as an estimated 150 palm oil workers, who arrived by busses believed to be paid by Pt Kalista Alam, conducted a noisy demonstration before the court, demanding the court find in favour of the controversial company. The same company had one of its palm oil concessions cancelled in September 2012, after administrational courts found the permit had been granted illegally, and last week its assets were frozen by the civil court as its process draws to an expected close. The final hearing has now been scheduled for December 5th where now the judges are expected to deliver a final ruling.
“PT Kallista Alam is one of several palm oil companies illegally burning forests on deep peat within the Leuser Ecosystem during the last few years” Said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speaking at a packed media event outside a major international RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference in Medan earlier today. “We congratulate the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on its action against PT Kallista Alam, but also remind people that a potentially devastating new spatial plan being proposed by the Provincial Government still threatens huge swathes of Aceh’s forests and their incredibly unique biodiversity, in addition to Aceh’s people and their economic livelihoods. If approved, this new plan is likely to lead to an upsurge of new legal cases due to the massive increase in environmental damage it will undoubtedly cause.”
“If the new spatial plan goes through it will be the the end of the Sumatran Elephant” Dr Singleton concluded.
“There can only be one word to describe the situation for the Leuser Ecosytem, and it’s emergency.” warned Kamaruddin SH, an Acehnese lawyer who represented communities in Tripa with their complaints against PT Kallista Alam. “The Leuser Ecosystem is a Nationally Strategic Area protected for its Environmental Function, It is currently illegal for any district, provincial or national leader to issue permits for palm oil, mining or any other activity that would degrade the environmental function of the Leuser Ecosystem, but powerful business lobby is currently trying to undo this, not to support community, but to line their pockets with the assets of Aceh. Todays show of intimidation by Pt Kalista Alam outside the court in Meulaboh is just one example of many companies attempting to intimidate the legal and political processes of Aceh, it deserves close scrutiny from anti corruption and legal agencies.
Landscape planning and GIS specialist, Graham Usher, showed satellite information and data analysis that highlighted the extreme sensitivity of Aceh’s environment. “Much of Aceh’s remaining forests are on steeply sloping terrain, that should be off limits to development under existing spatial planning regulations. Clearing forests and building roads in such areas is simply not safe, and potentially disastrous.
“What will happen if these forests are cleared is very clear, and easy to predict. We will see a collapse of the ecosystem, and the loss of the environmental benefits they provide to Aceh’s people. This will lead to food security problems in the future, in addition to a huge increase in flash floods, erosion and landlsides. It’s not rocket science”, he stressed. “it’s simply cause and effect. To open new roads and exploitive industrial concessions in the heart of Aceh will only result in even further destruction, and lead to a rash of new, entirely avoidable, social conflicts. It’s not only unique biodiversity that will suffer, Aceh’s people will suffer greatly as well!”
“Aceh is currently suffering from environmental anarchy, there is next to no law enforcement, and local elites are left to take what they want without monitoring or fear of legal consequences.”
“The community of Aceh feels that promises have been broken” stated TM Zulfikar, former Chairman of Friends of the Earth, Aceh. While many supported Governor Zaini in his election, there is now increasing frustration and anger being expressed towards his administration. “If we’d known Aceh was going to be carved up, cut down, and sold to the highest bidder most would probably have voted differently.
“Recently the Aceh Government told us at a public meeting that there is no budget left for the development of the Province’s spatial planning and that it therefore needs to be approved and ratified before the end of December. But they have still not completed any environmental sensitivity analysis and key data and information has failed to be shared. I seriously worry what the Government will do in the next two months. If things happen as we hear, he will forever be recorded in history as the Governor who returned Aceh to social conflict and environmental destruction.” Concluded Mr Zulfikar.
Gemma Tillack with Rainforest Action Network called on international consumer companies who use palm oil in their products to demand that their suppliers verifiably guarantee that the oil they supply is not connected to rainforest destruction like that taking place in Tripa. “Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem are globally important areas. It is imperative that consumer companies take responsibility for the fact that Conflict Palm Oil like that produced at the expense of the Tripa peat swamp is making its way into the global marketplace. Companies like the “Snack Food 20” targeted by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urgently need to engage with their supply chains and implement truly responsible palm oil procurement policies that demand palm oil be produced without contributing to rainforest destruction, climate pollution or human rights abuses.”
For further information please contact:
Dr Ian Singleton
Conservation Director, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP)
Landscape Sensitivity Analyst, PanEco Foundation
Aceh Communications Officer, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL)
Lawyer for Tripa Community Coalition
Senior Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network
Banda Aceh. The Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favor of a palm oil company in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.
Presiding Judge Yusri Arbi said that Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah’s decision in September 2012 to revoke the permit for plantation firm Kallista Alam, following an order from the Medan High Court, was not legally binding because the court decision was being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) dragged the governor to the Aceh state administrative court but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012 , to pull the permit.
The Ministry of Environment and the Attorney General’s Office later filed a case against Kallista Alam for crimes conducted in Rawa Tripa.
Kallista Alam, however, as an affected party, filed an appeal against the Medan court decision with the Supreme Court. At the same time, it filed a lawsuit with the Banda Aceh Administrative Court contesting the revocation of the permit.
The head of the legal bureau for the Aceh government, Edrian, said the government would file an appeal against this latest verdict with the Medan High Court.
“The Aceh government’s stance is clearly to file an appeal because the governor’s decision to revoke the business permit of Kalista Alam was to follow the decision of Medan High Administrative Court,” he told Jakarta Globe on Friday.
“The panel [of judges] should consider the environmental impact created by Kallista and the impact to the residents around Rawa Tripa before deciding to grant their lawsuit. Moreover, Rawa Tripa was once under international spotlight concerning forest burning when clearing the land.”
Edrian claimed that based on investigation of the Aceh government, Kallista Alam’s initial operations had damaged the environment and led to conflicts with residents.
Walhi Aceh director T.M. Zulfikar said the verdict was a set back in the efforts to conserve the peatland and protect the orangutans in Rawa Tripa.
“Walhi Aceh will also file an appeal to the Medan High Administrative Court,” Zulfikar said.
He said that Kallista Alam should not have been able to contest the revocation as the Aceh government had full authority to issue or revoke business permits as part of its extended authority as a special region.
“We hope the Supreme Court will issue a verdict as soon as possible on the appeal filed by Kallista [Alam] so the problem won’t drag on,” he added.
Aceh is currently preparing to open over 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for the development of mines, plantations, roads, logging and palm oil expansion. This devastating plan would reduce total forest cover of Aceh from 68% to 45% and see the destruction of Tripa and other areas of the protected Leuser Ecosystem driving Sumatran orangutan, elephants, tigers and rhinos to extinction.
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Environmental activists have condemned the Aceh administration following confirmation that it planned to reverse a logging ban imposed by the previous administration and clear up to 1.2 million hectares of protected forest across the province.
Efendi, a spokesman for the Coalition of People Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA), said at a media conference in Jakarta on Thursday that the provincial administration’s special planning committee had confirmed that the Forestry Ministry had approved of “almost 100 percent” of proposed changes to its spatial plans.
This would slash the proportion of protected forest in the province from 68 percent to 45 percent, and cause the loss of 1.2 million hectares of forest.
“Despite our best efforts, communities and NGOs have been completely excluded from the development process of the new spatial plan, which has totally lacked transparency and accountability,” Efendi said.
He said the proposed change in status for protected forests “is closely linked to planned expansion of palm oil plantations and mining.”
“There is an inevitable belief that the proposal is simply to legalize illegal activities already taking place as several mining and palm oil concessions overlap the areas scheduled for downgrading,” he said.
Activists also called into question the claim by the administration that transforming large swaths of forest into mining and oil palm concessions would lead to greater land availability for local communities.
They noted that the area to be allocated to the community was just over 1 percent of the planned new opening of forest area, or 14,704 hectares, while the largest allocations would go toward mining, at just under 1 million hectares, logging concessions (416,086 hectares), and oil palm concessions (256,250 hectares).
They also said that the latter concessions would cover the entire Tripa peat swamp, a protected area that is considered an important habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan and that has received much international attention due to illegal clearing there by palm oil companies.
The illegal clearing is still being investigated by the Environment Ministry and the police.
‘Extremely dangerous move’
The KPHA also warned that in addition to the new “large-scale exploitative industrial developments,” the spatial plan also paved the way for the construction of an extensive road network that would cut through currently protected forests, “further disrupting wildlife and watersheds in the region and opening up even more forests for exploitation, both legal and illegal.”
“Famously once known as the ‘Ladia Galaska’ road network, or the ‘Spider Web,’ for its appearance, the plan is once again being resurrected, despite being rejected in the past by popular demand due to the severe environmental damage it would bring,” the group said in a statement.
Graham Usher, a landscape protection specialist previously involved in forest mapping under the previous Aceh governor, Irwandi Yusuf, said: “Areas that had previously been identified as being too high or too steep for conversion, or as having inappropriate soil types and heavy rainfall, so that under existing Indonesian regulations they should be protected forests, have now been identified as targets for logging concessions, roads, mining concessions and palm oil plantations.
“Opening up such forests is an extremely dangerous move. Aceh’s people know very well that removal of forests on such steep and unstable soils results in devastating landslides and floods during the heavy rains that Aceh receives every year.
“The plan to clear these forests is a serious mistake that will result in the loss of yet more innocent lives and huge economic losses for the province.”
The activists said it was likely that “a number of national laws have been breached” by the administration of Governor Zaini Abdullah in drawing up the proposed changes. Under Irwandi, large-scale logging and forest clearing were prohibited.
Ian Singleton, from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said it was not just the iconic apes that would disappear if the spatial plan went into force.
“It is now being proposed that Tripa lose its currently protected status altogether, and for this unique peat swamp ecosystem and all its biodiversity and potentially hugely valuable carbon stock to be handed over to the palm oil companies for final, total obliteration,” he said.
“The new spatial plan does not even acknowledge the existence of the world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem protected area or the fact that the forests they intend to ‘unprotect’ are the last main hope for the long-term survival of iconic Sumatran endemic species such as the Sumatran tiger, elephant and rhinoceros. The future of each of these species, and countless others, will be placed in immediate jeopardy if the plans are allowed to proceed.”
Singleton added it was ironic that after receiving tens of millions of dollars from the international community to protect its forests, the Aceh administration “now plans to trash them for roads, new mines, timber and oil palm concessions.”
Rudi Hadiansyah Putra, the conservation manager for the Leuser Ecosystem Management Authority (BPKEL), said conservationists had worked hard to protect Aceh’s forests, and that what the provincial administration proposed doing would set back all their efforts.
“The community understand very well from previous devastating flash floods that clearing the forests upstream has a direct impact on the river flow and their own safety downstream,” he said.
“The people of Aceh are no fools. We know that when these unstable areas are cut, it directly leads to increasing natural disasters. If even the villagers know this, why do the Aceh government’s advisers not comprehend this simple connection?”
It is a tradition in mass media to compile an end-of-the-year list. While the Jakarta Globe has covered “Indonesian Stories That Raised Eyebrows in 2012” and “The Biggest News Stories of 2012 Have Only Just Begun,” do not forget to take a moment to review environmental issues.
Indonesia is often dubbed as a country plagued with amnesia. Hence, here are a few of environmental stories that made headlines over the past year — those that still need to be followed up in 2013.
Illegal Wildlife Trading
Indonesian Police arrested a Depok resident in possession of dozens of stuffed rare animals and pelts in July — after a long hiatus on breaking down illegal wildlife trading.
At least 25 stuffed animals and pelts of rare and protected species were seized by the police, in Cimanggis, Depok, West Java, in the July raid.
The items confiscated included 14 tigers, two leopards, one clouded leopard, a lion and three bears. There were also two sacks full of tiger pelts, as well as a stuffed tiger head and four deer heads. This was considered as the biggest bust involving animal body parts.
In August, the Forestry Ministry arrested an antique dealer selling the skin of an endangered Sumatran tiger. At least four people were caught red-handed in Cilandak, South Jakarta, while attempting to sell a Sumatran tiger skin and a Javan leopard pelts.
Both cases violated the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, for which the perpetrators could get up to five years in prison and up to Rp 100 million ($10,325) in fines.
The suspect in July bust, identified as Feri, was charged under the aforementioned law but was later released on bail. Both cases triggered fierce campaigns on major online shops in the country to stop facilitation transactions on rare and protected animals.
Orangutans Let Free
In 2012, there were still news about orangutans being kept as pets. But over the past year, at least 44 orangutans have been released and brought back into the wild from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundatio’s Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Center in Central Kalimantan.
Meanwhile, another six orangutans were set free from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Reintroduction Program and Land Rehabilitation in East Kalimantan. The orangutans were sent to the Kehje Sewen forest, an ecosystem restoration area in the province.
There are still at least 600 orangutans waiting to be released. This release will contribute to the target set by the presidentially-mandated Indonesian Orangutan Conservation Action Plan 2007-2017. The plan was announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2005.
The Birth of Andatu, Rare Sumatran Rhino
2012 was dubbed as the International Year of Rhino. A critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros gave birth in captivity in June in more than a century.
The birth was recorded in history as the first successful breeding outside its natural habitat. The male calf was named “Andatu,” an acronym from his father “Andalas” and his mother “Ratu.” In Bahasa Indonesia, Andatu means “Anugerah Dari Tuhan” or Gift From God.
Andatu was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Lampung.
Indonesia, where one of only 11 nations where rhinos are found, is lucky to be the birthplace of Andatu. The country has two kinds of rhinos: the one-horned Javan rhino with only 35 left in Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java and the two-horned Sumatran Rhino, which only 200 left in the wild.
Tripa Peat Swamp and Environmental Crime
The Tripa peat swamp was the highest profile case in Indonesia since 2011. The debacle caught intense attention both from the Indonesian authorities and the international world.
The case was brought into attention by local people in Aceh in late 2011 revealing issuance of a permit to clear 1,605 hectares of forest inside the Leuser ecosystem in Nagan Raya district by then-governor Irwandi Yusuf to a plantation company Kalista Alam in the Tripa area. The permit issuance was a breach to Indonesia’s commitment on forest moratorium, which was pledged in 2009.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) then filed a lawsuit against Irwandi to revoke the permit. The Indonesian authority, under the REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) task force, also took action by requesting the Ministry of Environment to conduct investigation over the case.
Both institutions have claimed that the permit was violating the moratorium agreement. In September this year, Walhi won the lawsuit at the Medan State Administrative Court, North Sumatra, which called for Aceh administration to scrap the permit awarded for the company.
The ruling was then followed through by the now-elected Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah in September, who finally revoked the permit of the company in Tripa.
The Tripa forest, part of the rich Leuser Ecosystem, is home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and one of the few places on earth where orangutans, Sumatran tigers and sun bears can still be found living side-by-side.
There is still ongoing court process over the Ministry of Environment.
Hazardous Toxic Waste
The beginning of 2012 started off with 113 containers of dangerous and hazardous waste mixed with scrap metals entered Tanjung Priok harbor shipped from England and Netherlands.
This hazardous waste was said to be the “largest shipment” ever transported into the country and became an important issue from Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya and Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo at that moment.
The 113 containers were sent back to its original country: 89 containers to England and 24 containers to Netherlands. It did not stop there. The customs widened its inspection and targeted an additional 3,446 containers from Tanjung Priok, 130 containers at the Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, 11 containers at the Tanjung Emas port in Semarang and 77 containers at the Belawan port in Medan.
As a result, the ministry was bombarded with protesters claiming from scrap metal association and demanded to release the containers as they might lose their income.
From the law enforcement side, the ministry is currently investigating 254 containers and preparing for legal actions based on the 2009 Law on Environmental Management and Protection, the 2008 Law on Waste Management and the 1995 Customs Law for violating the documents. Currently, eight people were declared as suspects: two Chinese and the rest were Indonesians.