Joko found negligent over pollution

Demand for action: Environmental activists holding placards outside the Central Jakarta Court during the hearing of the civil lawsuit to sue the government for not taking action on the city’s chronic levels of air pollution, in Jakarta. — Reuters

Jakarta: An Indonesian court ruled that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and six other top officials have neglected citizens’ rights to clean air and ordered them to improve the poor air quality in the capital.

A three-judge panel at the Central Jakarta District Court yesterday notched a victory for a healthy living environment, siding with 32 residents who filed a lawsuit two years ago against Jokowi and the ministers for environment, health and home affairs, as well as the provincial governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java.

The verdict was initially scheduled for May 20, but had been postponed several times.

The judges voted 3-0 in favour of the plaintiffs under the Coalition for the Clean Air Initiative.

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

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

The judges dismissed a part of the lawsuit alleging Jokowi violated human rights.

The plaintiffs, who included activists, public figures, motorists and pollution disease victims, did not ask for financial compensation and instead demanded a more robust supervision and sanctions for offenders.

“We hope the defendants would accept their defeat wisely and choose to focus on making efforts to improve air quality conditions rather than doing useless things, such as legal efforts to fight in appeals,’’ said Ayu Eza Tiara, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

It is unclear if the government will appeal.

The severe air pollution in Jakarta stems mostly from vehicle emission, factories and coal-fired power plants located in the neighbouring provinces of Banten and West Java, according to the Center on Energy and Clean Air in its 2020 report.

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

However, due to the number of coal-fired power plants in the vicinity of major urban centres, the effect is not observed in Indonesia, where South Tangerang, in Jakarta’s metropolitan area, was the world’s 25th most polluted city.

Prone to flooding and rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled ground water extraction, Jakarta is the archetypical Asian mega-city.

It has been creaking under the weight of its dysfunction, causing massive pollution to rivers and contaminating the ground water that supplies the city.

Yuyun Ismawati, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement yesterday that if Jokowi’s administration ignored the court’s decision, health costs will continue to increase.

The Jakarta administration data released last year showed more than 5.5 million cases of diseases related to air pollution in the city.

In an amicus curiae brief submitted in support of the lawsuit, the UN special rapporteur for human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, said that protecting people from the harmful effects of air pollution is a constitutional and legislative obligation of the Indonesian government, and not an option.

Boyd said air pollution is a major problem in Indonesia, causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually.

He said levels of PM 2.5 – fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 millionths of a metre – in Jakarta were well above national and regional standards as well as World Health Organisation recommended limits.

“Yet air pollution is a problem that is amenable to solutions that are well known,” Boyd said. — AP

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Joko Widodo , air quality , air pollution , Jokowi


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