Jakarta, August 12th, 2016 – After having been postponed for quite some time, finally on Thursday (11/08/2016), the District Court (PN) finally cut off the court verdict regarding Land and Forest Fires (Karhutla) case between Ministry of Environment and Forestry (Menteri LHK) versus PT National Sago Prima (PT NSP). The panel of judges (Panel of Judges), who asked PT NSP to pay charges worth of Rp 319.168.422.500 and perform an environment recovery (Rp 753.745.500.000), received a huge amount of appreciation. One of the theorems from Menteri LHK (litigant) that was received by Panel of Judges says that PT NSP (defendant) has been proven not having adequate resources in controlling and preventing Karhutla. Meanwhile, Panel of Judges refused to defend the defendant who said that the fire burning in their concession was caused by a third party. But Panel of Judges still said that the defendant has to take responsibility for Karhutla in their concession, even if it was caused by a third party.

Regarding this issue, Raynaldo Sembiring (Director Deputy of ICEL) said that this decision is very important since there are so many defendants in Karhutla case that use the same excuse, like PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (PT BMH) and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (PT JJP). “Panel of Judges’ decision shows that the legislation doesn’t include the source of fire for verification of evidence. As long as the Karhutla occurs in the defendant’s concession, then you can ask them to take responsibility,” said Raynaldo. He also explained that this could be a new milestone to resolve conflict and rumors about local people, saying that they’re the ones who set Karhutla on fire.

Unfortunately, there are people who don’t agree with the verdict, especially regarding the dissenting opinion by Nursyam as Secondary Judge who said that the defendant should have been freed from paying charges because he thinks Karhutla was caused by natural disaster. Nursyam refers his opinion based on decree (SK) of The Regent of Kepulauan Meranti about Karhutla Emergency Alert Status.

Fajri Fadhillah (researcher from ICEL) said that such dissenting opinion could create a misconception that makes corporations will not take responsibility for Karhutla case. “Based on UU No. 24 Tahun 2007 about Disaster Management and the civil law, Karhutla can only be categorized as a natural disaster if it’s not expected, extraordinary, and there are no people involved. These three criteria are not mentioned in SK The Regent of Kepulauan Meranti about Karhutla Emergency Alert Status,” said Fajri.

If PT NSP decided to appeal his case to the court, then the error in this dissenting opinion has to be observed in Appellate Court . Based on Panel of Judges PN Jakarta Selatan’s decision regarding Menteri LHK versus PT NSP case, Indonesian Center for Environmental Law has come to some conclusions:

  1. Appreciate the Panel of Judges’ decision not to free the defendant from their responsibility with an excuse that the source of fire was not from their business concession.
  2. Recommend the law enforcers to inspect and investigate the Karhutla case regarding Panel of Judges’ consideration as it is mentioned in point number one.
  3. Recommend the court in appellate not to follow the dissenting opinion from the Secondary Judge.
  4. Recommend the government and other authoritative not to repeat the statement that source of fire is from local society’s land because the legislative rules do not require the verification of source of fire in Karhutla case.

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