Indonesian Environmental Group Scores Big Win Over Illegal Oil Palm Permit

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 6 Sep 12;

Environmental activists have hailed a court decision demanding that the Aceh administration revoke an oil palm plantation permit in an ostensibly protected peat forest.

The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said in a statement on Wednesday that the decision by the Medan State Administrative Court in neighboring North Sumatra province was a victory “for all the people of Aceh and those groups, national or foreign, concerned with saving the forests of the Tripa peat swamp.”

The ruling, handed down last Thursday, calls on the Aceh administration to scrap the permit for a 1,600-hectare concession awarded to plantation firm Kallista Alam in the Tripa area, which was included inside a deforestation moratorium map published in May 2011.

The area was later dropped from the exclusion zone in a revised map published in November that year, but Kallista’s permit was issued three months earlier, which Walhi and other environmental groups contended made it clearly illegal.

However, a suit filed by Walhi over the permit was thrown out in April this year by the Banda Aceh State Administrative Court, which claimed that it did not have the authority to rule on the case and suggested that Walhi try to reach an out-of-court agreement with Irwandi Yusuf, the Aceh governor at the time, and Kallista.

Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, the Walhi Aceh executive director, lauded the Medan court’s decision and expressed hope that it would set a precedent for more stringent enforcement of environmental laws.

“Walhi Aceh calls on the governor of Aceh to immediately follow up by revoking the plantation permit given to Kallista Alam in the Tripa peat forest,” he said.

“We also hope that all the legal cases brought by the Environment Ministry and by civil society in relation to other companies still operating in the Tripa area will be processed thoroughly.”

Mas Achmad Santosa, an environmental legal advocate and member of a presidentially appointed task force that has also weighed in on the Tripa controversy, greeted the Medan court’s ruling as “a good sign” for the continued protection of the high-biodiversity area.

“I hope that now the Aceh administration will exercise better judgement in its decisions related to the protection of the environment, because now the world’s eyes are on Aceh,” he said.

“Whatever happens there, the world will be quick to notice.”

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.

Kallista has already cleared at least 30 hectares in its concession.

Nirarta Samadhi, chairman of the task force monitoring the implementation of the deforestation moratorium, also welcomed the decision and pointed out that his office had long recommended that Kallista’s permit be revoked.

“This decision confirms that we were right about this,” he said.

“We’re going to use this ruling to resume our talks with the new governor [Zaini Abdullah] so that hopefully the permit can be revoked immediately.”

While still in office late last year, Irwandi insisted that he did nothing wrong when he signed the permit, claiming that the controversy was part of a smear campaign ahead of the gubernatorial election, which he duly lost this April.