Indonesian Court Finds Jokowi Negligent in Jakarta Air Pollution Case

Ronna Nirmala
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Indonesian Court Finds Jokowi Negligent in Jakarta Air Pollution Case Indonesian environmental activists rally outside the Central Jakarta District Court where judges ruled the government must take strict action to improve air quality in the capital city, Sept. 16, 2021.

An Indonesian court on Thursday found President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and other senior government officials negligent of ensuring clean air for residents of the polluted capital Jakarta.

The judges ruled in favor of citizens and activists who had filed a civil lawsuit in 2019, and ordered seven co-defendants to take strict action to reduce air pollution in Jakarta, where particulate matter concentration is higher than World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

“The court declares the defendants have committed legal violations,” said Saifuddin Zuhri, head of the three-judge panel at Central Jakarta District Court, referring to a 2009 environmental law.

The legislation states, among other things, that the government is responsible for controlling environmental pollution.

The lawsuit was filed by 32 Jakarta residents after thick smog blanketed Jakarta for days in 2019. Activists had said the growing number of motor vehicles and coal-fired power plants around the capital caused the pollution.  

The court ordered Jokowi to set national ambient air quality standards to protect citizens based on the latest scientific data and technology.

The court ordered Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan to carry out an inventory of sources of air pollution by working with co-defendants West Java province Gov. Ridwan Kamil and Banten province Gov. Wahidin Halim.

“[C]onduct periodic emission tests on old vehicles,” among other measures, the judge ruled.

The governors must also ensure that the public and businesses comply with environmental regulations and punish offenders, the judge said.

In a Twitter post, Anies said he was “ready to carry out the court’s decision for better air quality in Jakarta.

Jokowi was studying the verdict and awaiting a review from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, said Faldo Maldini, a spokesman for the State Secretariat.

“After that, we will discuss various recommendations to determine the next steps,” Faldo told BenarNews. “This is a legal case and of course legal arguments need to be prepared.”

The WHO’s outdoor air pollution guideline stipulates that annual average exposure of PM 2.5 – the concentration of microscopic particulate matter that could get deep into the bloodstream and lungs, causing deadly diseases – should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2019, Jakarta’s PM 2.5 readings were in the unhealthy bracket. On some days that year, the city of 10.5 million people suffered from the world’s worst air quality, according to AirVisual, a monitoring app.

Smog envelops Jakarta in this aerial photo, June 13, 2021. [AFP]

‘A victory for all citizens’

Plaintiff Khalisah Khalid, an activist with environmental group Walhi, said she was relieved by the verdict.

The judges had delayed announcing the verdict several times since May, citing COVID-19 outbreaks and the need to scrutinize documents.

“The panel of judges have proven that citizens can rely on the courts to get justice,” Khalisah said in a statement.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Ayu Eza Tiara called the verdict timely and urged the officials to take immediate action to improve air quality.

“The defendants can choose to make efforts to improve air quality instead of wasting time and appealing the verdict,” she told reporters.

“We need to reiterate that the advocacy team is very open to participating in improving air quality in Jakarta, as well as (neighboring) Banten and West Java (provinces),” she said.

PM2.5 concentration in Jakarta is four to five times above WHO guidelines, according to Vital Strategies, a global health group that has conducted a study on air pollution in Jakarta.

Emissions from motorized vehicles and at least eight coal-fired power plants in and around Jakarta are the main sources of air pollution in the capital, it said. Additionally, open burning, construction, road dust, and re-suspended soil particles also dirty Jakarta’s air.

Particulate pollution will likely slash 5.5 years in Jakarta residents’ life expectancy, said a recent report by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Following the ruling, Bondan Andriyanu, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, called on the public to monitor the implementation of the court’s orders.

“This was a citizens’ lawsuit, so it is necessary to monitor together, because the most important thing about today’s verdict is how it is implemented,” he told BenarNews.

Walhi executive director Nur Hidayati called the ruling “a victory for all citizens, not just Jakarta residents.”

“We hope this can set a precedent, a good example for other cities throughout Indonesia. People can still put their hope in the justice system,” Nur told BenarNews.

He hoped the government would review existing coal-fueled power plants.

“[T]hose that are under construction and in the planning stage should be canceled, because otherwise air pollution will continue to deteriorate,” Nur said.


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