JAKARTA • President Joko Widodo has ended a two-day trip to different cities in Kalimantan on Borneo island in search of options to set up a new capital for Indonesia, after his administration decided to move ahead with a plan to create a new administrative hub away from overcrowded Jakarta.
He said he was assessing the "feel" of each city touted as an option for the new capital.
After his city-hopping trip across the Indonesian side of Borneo, he seemed impressed with at least two sites: Bukit Soeharto - or Suharto Hill - in East Kalimantan and the Triangle Area in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.
But there are concerns among green groups that moving the centre of government to Kalimantan might lead to environmental disasters in or around the new capital.
The Triangle Area is located in Palangkaraya, Katingan regency and Gunung Mas regency. The Presidential Office had previously stated that an area of 300,000ha had been earmarked by the provincial administration as an option for the new capital.
It is said to be a suitable site for building a new political and administrative hub because it is vast in size and known to be relatively free from natural disaster risks.
The other site, Bukit Soeharto, is a 61,850ha forest area located near the mid-point of the toll road connecting Samarinda and Balikpapan, the two largest cities in the province, both of which have airports.
Mr Dwi Sawung of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment was among the first experts to raise concern over the potential environmental ramifications if either of the two areas were to be turned into a new major city.
"Most land in Kalimantan is peatland. They might need to do preliminary work, like digging and solidifying the peatland, before starting to construct infrastructure for the new capital," Mr Dwi said.
The assessment will be extensive, not only in terms of demography or geography, but it will also cover an environmental assessment, such as to find out whether (cutting down forests) would cause floods.
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN JOHAN BUDI, on the Indonesian government forming a joint team of officials from ministries and state institutions, which would be tasked with spearheading further assessment of each location.
Such changes to the peatland, he added, could threaten existing carbon reserves and worsen global warming, despite the government's attempts to mitigate climate change. Massive land clearing around the site of the new capital could exacerbate the situation.
Bukit Soeharto has been declared a taman hutan rakyat (grand national park), or tahura, according to a 2007 forestry ministerial regulation, as the area was meant to be preserved as conservation area. But it has been scarred by illegal logging and the opening of plantations by residents.
World Resources Institute Indonesia senior manager for forest and climate Arief Wijaya echoed Mr Dwi's statement, saying an impact on the environment was an inevitable consequence of the planned relocation.
"The government should conduct a comprehensive study on the impact on the environment of the new capital, as well as its economic benefits," Mr Arief said.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi said the government would soon form a joint team of officials from ministries and state institutions, which would spearhead further assessment of each location.
"The assessment will be extensive, not only in terms of demography or geography, but it will also cover an environmental assessment, such as to find out whether (cutting down forests) would cause floods," Mr Johan told The Jakarta Post.
The trip by President Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, to the provinces of East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan would not be the last in the quest to survey possible cities for the new capital, and he was also set to visit other locations, Mr Johan said, without elaborating.
The government, however, would need to sit down with lawmakers to discuss the details of the plan, including the new location of the capital city as well as the budget needed for the move, before it can be finalised.
"There is still a lengthy process before the relocation can take place, including the deliberation at the House as well as the process of moving itself," Mr Johan said.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK