Indonesian court rules president negligent over pollution

Indonesia Air Pollution Lawsuit

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian court ruled Thursday that President Joko Widodo and six other top officials have neglected citizens’ rights to clean air and ordered them to improve the poor air quality in the capital.

A three-judge panel at the Central Jakarta District Court notched a victory for a healthy living environment, siding with 32 residents who filed a lawsuit two years ago against Widodo and the ministers for environment, health and home affairs, as well as the provincial governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java.

The verdict was initially scheduled for May 20, but had been postponed several times. The judges voted 3-0 in favor of the plaintiffs under the Coalition for the Clean Air Initiative.

Presiding Judge Saifuddin Zuhri ordered the seven officials to tighten national air quality standards so they are “sufficient to protect human health, the environment and ecosystems, including the health of sensitive populations, based on science and technology.”

“They have been negligent in fulfilling the rights of citizens to a good and healthy environment,” said Duta Baskara, a member of the panel. The judges dismissed a part of the lawsuit alleging Widodo violated human rights.

The plaintiffs, who included activists, public figures, motorists and pollution disease victims, did not ask for financial compensation and instead demanded a more robust supervision and sanctions for offenders.

“We hope the defendants would accept their defeat wisely and choose to focus on making efforts to improve air quality conditions rather than doing useless things, such as legal efforts to fight in appeals,'' said Ayu Eza Tiara, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

It is unclear if the government will appeal. Presidential spokesperson Fadjroel Rachman told The Associated Press that the president and his Cabinet were studying the verdict and the Ministry of Forestry and Environment would respond later.

Irvan Pulungan, an adviser on climate change for Jakarta's governor, said the governor was open to working closely with the plaintiffs to solve the city’s pollution problems and improve air quality.

Pulungan said the court decision that granted part of the plaintiffs’ demand “is not a disturbance to the government’s work but a vehicle for a collaborative effort to fix the unhealthy air.”

He said the city administration has passed new regulations since 2019, including on emission tests and new curbs on private car usage.

“Central and local governments needed to integrate actions to maximize the effectiveness of policies,” Pulungan said.

Jakarta counts 10 million people and three times more including those living in its greater metropolitan area. The severe air pollution in Jakarta stems mostly from vehicle emission, factories and coal-fired power plants located in the neighboring provinces of Banten and West Java, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air in its 2020 report. It identified 136 industrial facilities, including power plants, as contributing to pollution.

The Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis organization, said in its report in April that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a reduction of air pollution in many countries. However, due to the number of coal-fired power plants in the vicinity of major urban centers, the effect is not observed in Indonesia, where South Tangerang, in Jakarta’s metropolitan area, was the world’s 25th most polluted city.