The Medan State Administrative Court has instructed Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah to revoke a controversial oil palm concession in the Tripa peat swamp in Aceh province. This legal decision could signify an important breakthrough in stopping Indonesia’s forest destruction.
In August 2011, Irwandi Yusuf, Aceh’s then-governor, signed a permit for palm oil company PT Kallista Alam to convert 1,605 hectares of forest on the Trip peat swamp to oil palm plantations. The concession was awarded despite the fact that it was clearly part of the moratorium on new forest concession, that had been signed by Indonesia’s President only three months earlier.
Every six months, the moratorium map is revised. In the version published in November 2011, PT Kalista Alam’s concession area had disappeared from the area covered by the moratorium.
Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) Aceh sued the Governor of Aceh and PT Kalista Alam to revoke the concession, but the Banda Aceh State Administrative Court rejected the case in April 2012.
The Medan State Administrative Court (PTTUN Medan) ruled on the case following an appeal by WALHI Aceh. The decision is available here (pdf file, 225.8 kB, in Bahasa Indonesian). In a statement, Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, the Director of WALHI Aceh, said,
“WALHI Aceh welcomes the decision of PTTUN Medan and requested that the Governor of Aceh immediately follow up the decision by as soon as possible revoking the business license of PT. Kalista Alam plantation in the Rawa Tripa forests.”
WALHI’s National Executive Director, Abetnego Tarigan explained the importance of the decision:
“The decision of PTTUN Medan is a jurisprudence for the enforcement of environmental law and environmental conservation efforts in Indonesia, which has almost never taken side with the environment and the people.”
The decision is an important victory for the NGOs and local communities campaigning to stop the destruction of the forests of the Tripa Peat Swamp. The REDD+ Task Force also welcomed the court’s decision. In a statement, Mas Achmad Santosa, the Chair of the Working Group of Legal Review and Law Enforcement of the REDD+ Task Force, said,
“This decision is in line with our recommendation because the land utilisation permit granted to PT. Kalista Alam was based on invalidated location permit (izin lokasi) and is included in the Indicative Moratorium Map (IMM). So, we hope there will be no more mismanagement in the process of permit issuance.”
Important as this decision is, it’s too soon to describe it as a turning point for Indonesia’s forests. Earlier this week, Greenomics Indonesia’s coordinator, Vanda Mutia Dewi, told the Jakarta Post that “The Forestry Ministry is currently lobbying the new Aceh administration to reactivate the HPH [production forest concessions], which was earlier suspended during Irwandi Yusuf’s administration.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Forestry continues to hand out permits to convert forests. So far this year, the Ministry has issued permits for 342,709 hectares of forest, according to the Jakarta Globe. Last year, the figure was 366,259 hectares. In 2010, while the US$1 billion REDD deal with Norway was being negotiated permits covering an area of only 8,613 hectares were issues. In 2009, the Ministry issued permits covering a staggering 4.9 million hectares. When the moratorium expires next year, will the Ministry of Forestry simply return to business as usual?