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Indonesia taking companies who harm environment to court

Publication Date : 14-01-2014


Fresh from winning a civil suit against Kallista Alam palm oil plantation for illegally clearing land by burning, Indonesia's environment ministry has said it is pursuing three other companies for environmental destruction.

One of them is Indonesian company Suara Panen Subur, charged with offences similar to Kallista Alam's in the same Rawa Tripa area in Aceh, North Sumatra.

The ministry will also haul Merbau Pelalawan Lestari to court for illegal logging and file a review of breach of mining laws by Selatnasik Indokwarsa, which had won a Supreme Court ruling in an earlier suit brought by the ministry.

These moves are the ministry's bid to prove it is taking tough action against environmental destruction and rebut criticism that it has not done enough to stop such destruction and its ill effects like the haze.

"Our success in the (Kallista Alam) case is a good step for us to show that the 'polluter-pays' principle is effective. The compensation for loss and the rehabilitation cost we demand totalling more than 300 billion rupiah (US$24.9 million) can be a deterrent for others guilty of destroying the environment," Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said at a press conference on Monday.

Seven companies found responsible for burning land in Riau last June, contributing to the worst haze in 16 years, will be prosecuted this year, he said.

Last Wednesday, the Meulaboh District Court in Aceh ordered Indonesian firm Kallista Alam to pay 114.3 billion rupiah ($9.5 million) in losses to the state and 252 billion rupiah ($20.9 million) to rehabilitate the land it destroyed.

The landmark case has been hailed as sending a strong message against errant large corporations, some of which exploit the mismanaged and graft-laden forestry sector to obtain licences.

"This case is an example of better coordination among government officials across agencies and shows the improved knowledge in environmental issues among judges," said Mas Achmad Santosa, a deputy of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development. His agency is helping to coordinate investigations.

Rawa Tripa in Aceh drew international attention in 2011 when non-governmental organisations reported fires being set by plantation owners clearing land on deep peat swamps, in violation of the law. Their licences were later found to have been improperly issued and were revoked.

The Kallista Alam case took over two years to resolve, involving two field trips and court processes after a mediation failed.


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