Indonesia starts legal action against four companies linked to haze

Thick haze shrouds a local port in Malahayati, in the city of Banda Aceh on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sept 19, 2015.
Thick haze shrouds a local port in Malahayati, in the city of Banda Aceh on Indonesia's Sumatra island on Sept 19, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

INDONESIA’S environment and forestry ministry on Tuesday (Sept 22) named four plantation companies whose licences were suspended or revoked for alleged illegal land clearing that sparked forest fires, sending smoke across a swathe of South-east Asia.

Palm tree plantation companies Tempirai Palm Resources and Waringin Agro Jaya, both based in South Sumatra province, as well as Langgam Inti Hibrindo in Riau province, have had to stop operations since Monday. But their responsibility to prevent the fires on their concessions from spreading still remains, said Mr Bambang Hendroyono, secretary-general at the ministry.

Hutani Sola Lestari, a wood pulp company based in Riau, had its licence revoked. All the four companies are Indonesian-owned. 

“These suspensions will be in effect until the criminal proceedings are finished,” Mr Bambang told a media briefing.

The criminal proceedings start from police investigation, whose results will be delivered to state prosecutors, who will in turn present the documents to a district court for a decision.

The environment and forestry ministry, however, stopped short of disclosing the names of management or shareholders of these four companies, saying that further investigation and checks are needed.

Police had earlier declared Tempirai Palm Resources and Langgam Inti Hibrindo as suspects in environmental crimes, as part of a wider drive to combat the haze crisis. 

Previous efforts by the Indonesian government to halt the slash-and-burn practices have failed to tackle the problem due to a lack of policy coordination and legal wrangling that can take years to resolve.

Thick smoke caused by forest fires on Sumatra and Kalimantan islands has blanketed the region in recent weeks, pushing pollution levels to hazardous levels on some days in parts of Indonesia, and unhealthy or moderate levels in Singapore and Malaysia. President Joko Widodo has ordered thousands of security personnel backed by helicopters to help fight the fires. 

At 11am on Tuesday, the air pollution index at  Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan province hit a dizzying height of 1995.02, more than six times above the minimum hazardous value of of 351, according to the website of Indonesia's Agency for Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics (BMKG).