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Indonesian court finds president negligent over pollution in capital


An Indonesian court ruled that President Joko Widodo and six other senior officials neglected citizens’ right to clean air and ordered them to improve poor air quality in the capital.

A three-judge panel from the Jakarta Central District Court ruled on the side of 32 residents who filed a lawsuit two years ago against Mr Widodo and the ministers of the environment, health and the environment. interior, as well as the provincial governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java.

The judges voted unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs as part of the Coalition for the Clean Air Initiative.

A demonstration for clean air outside the Jakarta Central District Court (Dita Alangkara / AP)

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

“They have been negligent in realizing citizens’ rights to a good and healthy environment,” said panel member Duta Baskara.

The judges dismissed part of the lawsuit alleging that Mr. Widodo had violated human rights.

The plaintiffs, which included activists, public figures, motorists and victims of pollution illnesses, did not seek financial compensation and instead demanded stricter monitoring and punishment of violators.

“We hope the defendants accept their defeat wisely and choose to focus on efforts to improve air quality conditions rather than doing unnecessary things like legal efforts to fight on appeal,” Ayu Eza Tiara, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, mentioned.

Jakarta has a population of 10 million, of whom three times as many live in its greater metropolitan area.

The foggy skyline of Jakarta
The hazy skyline of Jakarta (Tatan Syuflana / AP)

Severe air pollution in Jakarta comes mainly from emissions from vehicles, factories and coal-fired power plants located in neighboring Banten and West Java provinces, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air in its 2020 report.

The Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis organization, said in its report in April that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in reduced air pollution in many countries.

But due to the number of coal-fired power plants near major urban centers, the effect was not seen in Indonesia, where southern Tangerang, in the metropolitan area of ​​Jakarta, was the 25th most polluted city in the world. world.

Prone to flooding and rapid shipwreck due to uncontrolled extraction of groundwater, Jakarta is the archetype of the Asian megalopolis. It creaks under its own weight, causing massive pollution of rivers and contaminating the water tables that feed the city.

Congestion is estimated to cost the economy US $ 6.5 billion (£ 5 billion) per year.

Yuyun Ismawati, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement that if Mr. Widodo’s administration ignored the court ruling, healthcare costs would continue to rise.

Jakarta administration data released last year revealed more than 5.5 million cases of air pollution-related illnesses in the city.

An activist wearing masks to represent those affected by air pollution sits on the courtroom floor in protest before judges announce their verdict
An activist wearing masks to represent those affected by air pollution sits on the courtroom floor in protest before the judges announce their verdict (Dita Alangkara / AP)

The data also indicates that the estimated burden of medical care costs of noncommunicable disease cases from air pollution in 2020 could reach 60.8 trillion rupees (£ 3 billion).

In a brief submitted in support of the lawsuit, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment declared that protecting people from the harmful effects of air pollution is a constitutional and legislative obligation of the United Nations. Indonesian government, not an option.

David R Boyd said air pollution is a major problem in Indonesia, causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

The court verdict tarnished Mr Widodo’s credibility for improving infrastructure and the environment in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, which was his signing policy that helped him win a second term in 2019.

Mr Widodo announced shortly after his re-election that the capital would be moved outside of Java, where 57% of the country’s 270 million inhabitants are concentrated.

The capital’s new site will be located in the sparsely populated province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, known for its rainforests and orangutans.

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