The Environment Ministry has said it will launch an investigation into the issuance of a plantation concession inside the Tripa peat swamp forest in Aceh province.
The ministry’s announcement came in response to findings by the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation forest carbon reduction task force.
On Friday, the government-formed task force said it had evidence that palm oil company Kallista Alam had violated regulations in turning the swamp forest into a plantation.
The task force recommended that the Environment Ministry and the police further scrutinize Kallista’s actions.
“We will investigate if the company has properly conducted an Amdal [environmental impact analysis] or has other environmental permits,” Sudariyono, the ministry’s head of law enforcement unit, said at a seminar in Jakarta on Monday.
Even if the company did have a permit, Sudariyono said, the ministry would look into whether it included right to operate inside the Tripa peat forest.
Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the REDD task force, said on Friday that Kallista had violated the regulation.
“Opening a plantation inside a protected swamp area has clearly broken the law,” he said.
After interviewing locals, the team was convinced that Kallista had used illegal slash-and-burn methods in order to clear the peat land, violating several laws on plantations and the environment.
“Based on eyewitness accounts, the burning has been systematically done,” Kuntoro said.
On April 3, an Aceh court threw out a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups against outgoing Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who they alleged issued Kallista an illegal permit in August 2011.
The license allows the company to convert 1,600 hectares of the Tripa peat swamp forest into a palm oil plantation.
The forest was initially included in the government’s map of areas off-limits to forestry activities, published in May 2011, as part of a two-year moratorium on new forestry concessions in peat and primary forests.
However, a revised map issued in November dropped the Tripa forest from the protected zone. The plaintiffs in the suit argued that when Irwandi issued the permit in August, the revised map had not yet been published, meaning the area was still protected and the issuance was illegal.
The Banda Aceh State Administrative Court dismissed the groups’ lawsuit on a technicality, claiming that it was “not authorized to hear the matter.”
The coalition, which includes Indonesia’s largest environmental group Walhi and Greenpeace, said on Thursday that it had filed an appeal against the court’s decision.
Deddy Ratih, Walhi’s forest campaigner, said his group had filed an appeal with a higher court in the province.
“The area is critical to the conservation of rare species including orangutans, many of whom have died because of continuing fires there,” Deddy said.
He said satellite images showed more than 40 hot spots indicating fires in March as a result of land conversion in Tripa, located in northern Sumatra.
There were some 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans in the area in the 1990s, but only a few hundred are left today, Ratih said.
There are currently about 6,600 Sumatran orangutans in the wild.
Kuntoro, the REDD task force chief, is a close aide to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“That plantation is inside the protected forest. It’s strange they can get a permit. I suspect something behind the issue of the permit,” he said.