JAKARTA (REUTERS) - An Indonesian court on Tuesday (Dec 7) rejected a bid by two companies to reinstate permits for oil palm plantations in its easternmost region of Papua, in what was seen as a test of the government's pledge to halt such land conversions to contain deforestation.
The verdict comes two months after Indonesia said it would not approve new permits even after the lapse of a moratorium on plantations.
The two companies - PT Papua Lestari Abadi (PLA) and PT Sorong Agro Sawitindo (SAS) - had permits for about 70,000ha of land, equivalent to nearly seven times the size of the city of Paris.
The companies had sued the head of the Sorong district in West Papua overseeing their permits, arguing that revoking them had harmed them.
The Sorong district head revoked permits covering 105,000ha held by PLA, SAS and another company called PT Inti Kebun Lestari, which is also fighting the decision in court.
The court rejected "in its entirety the plaintiff's claim", Mr Petrus P. Ell, a lawyer defending the head of Sorong district, told a virtual conference after the verdict was announced.
The companies' lawyer, Mr Juhari, who uses one name, told Reuters they would appeal against the verdict.
Indonesia last month joined 127 other nations pledging an end to deforestation by 2030, but appeared to back track just days later, saying that a zero-deforestation goal was at odds with its development interests.
Instead, Indonesia promised a "carbon net sink" goal for its forestry sector by 2030, meaning that the sector will absorb more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits.
The about-face by a country seen as critical to saving tropical rainforests triggered outrage on social media and criticism by environmentalists.
Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest tropical forests and a top producer of palm oil, has banned forest clearing since 2011.
The country's environment ministry claims to have reduced the rate of deforestation by 75 per cent last year by controlling forest fires and curbing land clearing.