The administrative court in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, has refused to rule in a case brought by environmentalists who are trying to halt the destruction of the Tripa peat swamp forest.
Animal protection groups fear the orangutan population in the peat swamp could be wiped out within months if the palm oil licences in the area are not revoked.
Fires set to clear the land for palm oil are raging through the swamp and orangutans are being killed in the companies’ race to make profits.
Friends of the Earth Indonesia (Walhi) had asked for the permit granted to the company PT Kallista Alam by the governor of Aceh province, Irwandi Yusuf, to be cancelled.
The Aceh court said today (April 3) it had no authority to rule because the parties involved hadn’t tried to solve the case outside of court.
Walhi will now appeal to the high court.
“We are happy that Walhi will be appealing,” said Graham Usher from the group Foundation of a Sustainable Ecosystem, who is at the forefront of the campaign to save the Tripa swamp. “The hearings would be held in Medan, where we can mobilize much more support, and the judges would be under much less political pressure, which was definitely a factor in this case.
“The judges avoided dealing with the main case made against the permit, namely that it is was in the Leuser Ecosystem, protected from industries that cause environmental damage. Instead they challenged Walhi’s right to bring the case, a ruling that seems to contradict Article 53 of the Law on National Administration.”
Ian Singleton, conservation director of the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation and head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said the important thing now was to try and ensure that PT Kallista Alam’s activities in the peat swamp are halted while the case goes to appeal. “We need to continue to lobby for the clearance and burning activities of other palm oil companies in Tripa to be halted immediately, too.”
The Tripa swamp forest is home to the world’s densest population of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. As the blazes rage, vital carbon stocks are being destroyed, along with local livelihoods. As the peat swamp lies within the Leuser Ecosystem area it should, according to government regulations, be protected land.
Despite the peat swamp being on protected land, and the area being off-limits for palm oil under a government moratorium, PT Kallista Alam was last year given a permit to develop a 1,600-hectare oil palm plantation in the heart of the swamp.
Conversion of the swamp into palm oil plantations will cause massive emissions of greenhouse gas and reduce buffering against flooding and drought. The area was hit by a tsunami in 2004 and needs all the protection it can get.
In the early 1990s there were 3,000 orangutans in the Tripa forest; now there are only about 200.
Up to 100 orangutans are thought to have perished in forest clearing and peat burning in the last few months in Tripa.
Another 100 orangutans are estimated to have died between 2009 and 2011 – killed either in the conversion process or because of starvation and malnutrition.