Indonesia to appeal court's ruling to absolve company for forest fire

Siti Nurbaya, the Indonesian environment minister, plans to be directly involved in appealing the court's decision in favour of PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH), a plantation firm accused of clearing land with fire in South Sumatra.

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva

On December 30, the Palembang District Court in South Sumatra threw out the government’s lawsuit against the Asia Pulp & Paper supplier, a significant setback in its campaign to prosecute companies for causing peat fires that raged across the archipelago last year.

Bad omen

The district court’s decision was a bad omen for those who hoped it would be the second in a raft of guilty verdicts for companies like BMH. The Supreme Court had previously ordered oil palm grower PT Kallista Alam to pay a record $26m for cut-and-burning forests in Aceh province. BMH has been asked to pay a massive 7.8 trillion rupiah ($564m) in fines and reparations as a result of the fires that occurred in its concession in 2014 and 2015.

Forced to take action

Indonesian law holds companies responsible for fires that burn in their concessions, regardless of whether they started them. But companies frequently employ fire to clear land, as it’s far cheaper than using excavators. The government has generally declined to pursue legal action against companies behind the annual fires, but last year’s burning event was so devastating – half a million Indonesians came down with respiratory ailments and the smoke drifted into neighbouring countries – that officials have been forced to take action. Source: Mongabay

Email your news and story ideas to: