The Jakarta Post 5 Jan 16;
The government is preparing to appeal a Palembang District Court verdict declaring that the operations of pulp producer PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (PT BMH) did not cause any environmental damage.
In the verdict delivered on Wednesday, the court said the evidence collected in the case against PT BMH failed to prove it illegally set fire to 20,000 hectares of its concession in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra, in 2014.
“We are preparing for the appeal,” said Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya as quoted by kompas.com on Monday.
Siti said she was waiting for a copy of the court verdict.
The lawsuit lodged by the ministry sought Rp 7.8 trillion in damages, which would have been the largest financial award ever levied against a company accused of forest burning in the country, with the intention of sending a strong message to those responsible for the annual haze.
The court said no damage could be proven as the burned land was still fertile and had been replanted with acacia trees afterward.
The judges also failed to take into account the air pollution caused by the fire in the company’s concession.
The verdict on PT BMH has been criticized as it is deemed to set a bad precedent for similar cases that have yet to go to trial, with the government pursuing other companies allegedly responsible for forest fires that have eased on account of monsoon rains.
The government has sanctioned 23 companies over the fires, with three having land-use or environmental permits revoked while 16 had permits suspended.”
Government to Lodge Appeal Next Week in Forest Fire Case
Jakarta Globe 5 Jan 16;
Jakarta. The Environment and Forestry Ministry is planning to lodge an appeal next week against a recent decision by the Palembang District Court in South Sumatra which threw out a Rp 7.8 trillion ($565 million) lawsuit against Bumi Mekar Hijau, accused of practicing slash-and-burn forest clearing in 2014.
Herwinsyah, a lawyer for the ministry, told Tempo.co on Tuesday that the team of lawyers representing the government would meet ministry officials in Jakarta on Friday to discuss legal strategies for the appeal.
“On Monday we will lodge the appeal,” Herwinsyah said.
The plaintiff's lawyer refused to divulge the grounds of the appeal but added that the district court should have ruled in the government's favor given the evidence presented.
The Palembang District Court has been criticized for ruling in favor of Bumi Mekar Hijau last week, dismissing accusations made by the Environment and Forestry Ministry that it deliberately burned forests in its own concession area to make way for oil palms during the 2014 drought season.
The government had demanded the company pay a fine of Rp 2.6 trillion as well as conduct an environmental restoration of the damage done during the 2014 forest fires, worth another Rp 5.2 trillion.
The court, presided over by Judge Parlas Nababan, ruled however the government failed to prove that the company was directly responsible for the fire.
The court also dismissed claims of environmental damage caused to the company's concession area, saying that the area “can still be replanted with trees.”
Bumi Mekar Hijau was also accused of committing the same practices in 2015, contributing to forest fires that resulted in choking haze that for months affected hundreds of thousands of people in Kalimantan, Sumatra and neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.
The case for the company's purported violations in 2015 has not yet been brought to trial.
The Jakarta Post 5 Jan 16;