MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining in Indonesian forests opposed in court

Published by MAC on 2005-04-20

Mining in forests opposed in court

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

20 April 2005

Environmentalists testified on Tuesday before the Constitutional Court about the devastating effects of open-pit mining in protected forests as they attempted to have a controversial law permitting that practice annulled.

The environmentalists are challenging the constitutionality of Law No. 19/2004, which allows 13 mining firms to resume open-pit mining in protected forests. The government had previously banned open-pit mining in protected forests under Law No. 41/1999. But mining firms that had been granted concessions before the issuance of the Forestry Law persuaded the government to exempt them from the ban.

The petitioners argued during the first day of the case on April 5 that the government had decided to allow open-pit mining based on the excuse of providing legal certainty to investors, even though this was at the expense of environmental destruction.

Former minister of plantations and forestry Muslimin Nasution, who was involved in the enactment of the Forestry Law, said it had been enacted after the government became aware of the devastating effects of open-pit mining on the environment.

"The practice was first allowed by Law No. 5/1967 (on forestry), as we were focused on attracting as much investment as possible to the forestry sector, often to the detriment of environmental interests. But then, we became aware of the adverse effects on the environment and that's why we banned it through Law No. 41/1999," he said.

Muslimin said that Indonesia's forests were being rapidly destroyed, something that was accompanied by a massive loss of topsoil, water catchment areas and natural resources.

"You can never restore damaged protected forests after all of their natural elements have been eroded and lost. Take a look at Freeport's vast (concession) area in Papua. How can one expect the company to carry out full rehabilitation?" he said, referring to PT Freeport Indonesia, a giant gold and copper miner.

Muslimin added that the Forestry Law had been thoroughly discussed with the other relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Mineral Resources and the Office of the State Minister for the Environment.

Another witness, Haryadi Kartodihardjo from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, echoed Muslimin's view that damaged protected forests would most likely never be able to recover.

Regarding government claims that the mining firms were helping support local governments in financial and developmental terms, Haryadi claimed the opposite was the case.

"Instead of contributing, Karimun Granite in the Riau Islands caused the local government to a loss of Rp 4.3 billion (US$452,631) per year," he said without elaborating.

A disaster management expert from the Veterans' National Development University in Yogyakarta, Eko Teguh Paripurno, said that open-pit mining in protected forests had great potential to lead to disasters.

"The definition of a disaster isn't limited merely to natural disasters. The fact that we're losing natural resources that should provide livelihoods for our offspring is an even bigger disaster," he said.

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