After months of pushing Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah to investigate the illegal issuance of a palm oil permit to company PT Kallista Alam, an Indonesian court finally grants an appeal by conservation groups to cancel the permit.
In a move welcomed by the REDD+ Task Force, the Medan State Administrative High Court accepted the appeal by Indonesian-based organization WALHI (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia), asking the court to revoke a plantation permit granted to PT. Kallista Alam for 1,605 hectares land in Rawa Tripa, Nagan Raya District, in Aceh Province.
It was a historic victory for WAHLI, an environmental watchdog group; as part of a coalition that also includes the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP), the groups have been fighting for permit revocation in the Tripa peat swamp area of Aceh for months.
The Tripa peat swamps are seen as a critical part of the Leuser ecosystem and are one of the largest remaining natural habitats in the world for the Sumatran orangutan. Many of the apes have already languished in illegal fires sparked by companies who strip the land then plant seedlings to harvest palm oil.
Digital Journal first reported on the plight of Sumatran orangutans back in March when we learned that an estimated 100 apes had been killed in 92 fires burning out of control in the Tripa forest. At the time, Dr. Ian Singleton, President of SOCP, said that native the native orangutans in the area could "have only a few more months, if not weeks, before disappearing forever."
Sumatran orangutans have been decimated by illegal fires set by palm oil companies.
WAHLI and SOCP have long questioned the permit issued to palm oil company PT Kallista Alam by then Aceh Governor: Irwardi Yusuf, but despite a high level national investigation launched months ago, the coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps warned that palm oil companies were still setting fires and destroying forests inside the protected areas of the swamps.
Previously, WALHI Aceh had sued the governor of Aceh and PT. Kalista Alam to revoke the permit issued on August 25, 2011 by the governor to the company. But WAHLI's request was rejected in April 2012 by the Banda Aceh State Administrative Court. The organization immediately launched an appeal which was finally heard and accepted by the Medan State Administrative High Court on August 30, 2012.
In a press release issued to Digital Journal, WALHI Aceh hailed the ruling as:
A victory for WALHI and for the whole community of Aceh and various national and international groups that have been so far very much and fully concerned about the relief and the protection of Tripa Peat Swamp.
Now WAHLI is calling on the Governor of Aceh for action. Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, the Executive Director of WAHLI, urged the governor "To immediately follow up on the court's decision by cancelling the Plantation Permit issued to PT. Kalista Alam," WAHLI also asked for an evaluation of all existing permits held by various plantation companies in the Tripa Peat Swamp that allegedly violate the law.
On Sep. 6, Mas Achmad Santosa, Chair of the Working Group of Legal Review and Law Enforcement of the REDD+ Task Force, explained that the peat lands are susceptible to fires when drained. "Protecting it means materializing our development goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 41 percent,'' he said, so "we hope there will be no more mismanagement in the process of permit issuance."
But help is still needed for the big red apes. "The Indonesian government admits orangutans have been deliberately killed at the rate of 3,000 a year for the last 25 years," says Hardi Baktiantoro from the Centre for Orangutan Protection. Baktiantoro told the Jakarta Post, that unless measures are taken now, "the species will freefall to extinction in the next two decades."