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 Govt revokes, suspends licenses of forest burners

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BerichtOnderwerp: Govt revokes, suspends licenses of forest burners    wo 23 sep 2015 - 21:22

The Jakarta Post, September 23 2015

The government has announced the revocation of permits for four firms whose concessions in Sumatra and Kalimantan have burned up recently, adding to the haze fire disaster that has engulfed the nation.

One of the firms, PT Hutani Sola Lestari (HSL), is alleged to have supplied timber to PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), the country’s major pulp and paper producer. However, the pulp and paper giant has denied the allegation.

“RAPP has no connection whatsoever with HSL,” RAPP president director Tony Wenas said in a press statement on Tuesday.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) database, HSL is a subsidiary of Raja Garuda Emas, previously known as Raja Garuda Mas, a business group controlled by one of the country’s richest businessmen, Sukanto Tanoto. Sukanto also owns RAPP.

According to Environment and Forestry Ministry secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono, HSL obtained its concession for a 45,990-hectare plot of land in Riau in 1999. The permit was supposed to have been valid for 55 years, but it will now expire following the government’s recent decision to revoke the permit.

“After we revoke the permit, it means that all operations should be stopped and all financial obligations have to be carried out,” Bambang told a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Bambang said that the rights to manage the plot of land would be relegated to the government within 60 days.

Besides HSL, the government decided to suspend licenses for three palm oil companies; PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waringin Agro Jaya, both in South Sumatra, and PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo in Riau.

“As of today, all operational activities of these companies are to be halted,” Bambang said, adding that the suspension would be effective until there were court verdicts on the cases.

The companies are also to be considered responsible for regenerating the burned land, with the ministry saying that it was currently taking samples from the burned land to estimate the environmental damage as well as the cost to repair it.

The four firms are the first few companies on a long list of 286 companies that the government is targeting for allegedly causing land and forest fires.

Of the 286 companies, 90 hold industrial forest permits and production concessions, 49 hold land-conversion permits and 147 hold land-use permits.

All together, they are responsible for burning of 191,993 hectares of land.

The decision to impose administrative sanctions before bringing the cases to court is something that is unprecedented. It is also a part of a grand plan set up by the central government to put an end to forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, areas that have struggled with worsening land and forest fires over the past 18 years.

Both the Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires (APHI) and the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) have rejected the general notion that big companies are behind the rampant forest fires, arguing that they are actually victims of the widespread slash-and-burn land clearing practices that are common in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Slash-and-burn farming is a generations-old agricultural practice to clear land quickly through the cutting and burning of forests and woodlands to clear the areas for agricultural purposes.

“There’s no way we would burn [our own concessions] because we would suffer from losses due to the loss of plantation assets,” APHI executive director Purwadi Soeprihanto said on Tuesday.

Likewise, head of Gapki’s agrarian and spatial planning division, Eddy Martono, said that most of its members whose concessions had burned up were in fact victims.

“While it’s true that the fires occurred on the concessions, these concessions were not controlled completely by the companies. For example, we already obtained land-cultivation permits but in those areas, local people still lived there. So if we looked at the hotspots, the fires happened on our concessions but they were actually [the wrongdoing of] local people,” he told a press conference at Gapki offices on Tuesday. “Gapki members are actually victims from this disaster.”

Langgam Inti Pelindo, one of the companies whose permit is to be suspended, is a member of Gapki.

“From PT Langgam’s report to us, their concession caught fire from neighboring plantations,” Eddy said.

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