Again President calls on stern measure against companies burning forest

EoF News / 08 September 2015

EoF News (PEKANBARU)—President Joko Widodo called stern measures against companies involved in forest and land fires burning by rescinding their licenses, media report said today.

Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces are hit by forest fires and thick haze that paralyzed air  transportation, closed schools and escalating upper respiratory infection suffered by residents due to hazardous levels of air pollution index.

 “I already gave the order to the forestry minister: take firm action against the perpetrators,” Joko told reporters at Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma air base on Sunday as quoted as saying by The Jakarta Globe on Monday.  Joko visited a palm oil concession in Ogan Komering Ilir district raged by fires.

 “I've already ordered the National Police chief to take firm action, to mete out the harshest punishment for companies that fail to obey [a prohibition in slash-and-burn forest clearing],” the president said.

The President said he had asked the Minister of Environment and Forestry to revoke the operating licenses of companies found guilty of setting such fires igniting fires, and the police to impose criminal charges against them.

President Joko said companies who have interest in the forestry should be responsible to protect their forest [land]. "However, [they] have to be responsible too for [protecting] its right or left side, for rights that we granted to them,” he added.

Last week National Disaster Mitigation Agency estimated that 25,6 millions of Sumatra and Kalimantan’s residents were impacted to haze from forest and peatland fires. While, 80 percent of Sumatra’s area is blanketed by thick haze causing health threats. In Riau alone, there 12,000 residents whom detected suffering upper respiratory infection disease.

In Jambi, KKI Warsi, an environmental NGO, published a fires hotspot distribution map showing that most of hotspots blanketing the province was found in industrial timber plantation (HTI license) and palm oil concessions (see map below).

By concessions, Eyes on the Forest analyzed that during 31 August to 7 September 2015 there are 78 fire hotspots detected where timber plantation concessions (HTI) had 42 hotspots and palm oil plantation (HGU) with 36 hotspots. While, Tesso Nilo National Park and Bukit Betabuh protected forest are the conservation areas that severely raged by burning that believed from encroachment perpetrators converting forest to palm oil plantation.

Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said that some concessions that raged by fires in August had been marked with police line and no more fire hotspots found there now (Antaranews, 7 Sep). EoF analyzed that in areas where usual fires and hotspots detected like in Bengkalis, Dumai, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan and Rokan Hulu there were no many hotspots this month, despite the air quality in Pekanbaru reached the worst level this year on Monday.

A legislator at House of Representatives said that forest fire burning is a crime that must be eradicated and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. Dwi Astuti Wulandari from Democrat Party said that slash and burning method in forests is a way to prepare new plantation land that mostly hit the tropical rainforest in the country.

To provide a deterrent effect to perpetrators of fires burning, the law enforcers should also reveal those who commanded and ordered the arson, she added.

18 year anniversary

In Pekanbaru, Walhi Riau and group of Riau students held rally in front of Riau Governor and Police Office protesting the government who fail to protect the people from annual forest fire that caused disrupting thick haze. “It has been 18 years that Riau suffered the misery due to forest fires and haze,” said Riko Kurniawan of Walhi Riau, told EoF.

The protesters called on the Government to bring the companies involved in the burning to the justice and evacuate Riau residents due to the province is not healthy to live in due to worsening air quality that on Monday morning reached 810 hazardous level.   

From Palembang, Walhi South Sumatra published a press release saying that the visit of President to a concession of palm oil that raged by fires was not enough if there is no further law enforcement against the perpetrators.

Hadi Jatmiko, the director executive of Walhi South Sumatra, doubted that law enforcement could be upheld against big companies like timber plantation concessions associated to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) like PT Bumi Mekar Hijau in Ogan Komering Ilir district that caused the State loss of IDR 7.9 trillion. Hadi also cited PT Rimba Hutani Mas, APP supplier located in Musi Banyuasin district, who since 2014 until this week had fire hotspots detected, but there is not law enforcement conducted by the Government, Antaranews reported Monday.

As shown by NASA Firms Eosdis data, Sembilang – Berbak forest landscape is the area that also hit severely by fires this week. APP announced last month that they plan to restore the deep peatlands in the landscape that located in Jambi and South Sumatra as part of their better practice management of peatlands in the country along with Deltares, a Dutch consultant firm.

In Jambi, KKI Warsi published recent fire hotspot map that overlaid with timber plantation and palm oil concessions where some famous concessions like PT WKS, PT LAJ are hit by fires.