Indonesian court rules president negligent over Jakarta air pollution

·3-min read

Indonesia's president has been ordered to clean up the nation's congested capital after a court ruled the leader failed to fulfil citizens' rights to clean air.

Thirty-two people filed a lawsuit against President Joko Widodo, as well as the country's health, environment and internal affairs ministers, and three other local governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java.

In the case which began in July 2019, they claimed the defendants were negligent by failing to curb air pollution in the country's capital city, Jakarta.

On Thursday, three judges at the Central Jakarta District Court voted in favour of the residents and said the seven officials have to take serious action including tightening air quality regulations, enforcing rules around emissions from cars, businesses and waste burning, and educating the public on the rules and health risks.

The court did not rule the actions of the defendants violated human rights.

Taxi drivers, parents and environmental campaigners were among the group which took the president and ministers to court.

Veronica joined the legal action after her daughter suffered from skin problems which she believes were caused by pollution.

She told Sky News the ruling was "a relief" as many of her children's classmates had also developed health problems.

"It's a good start for air quality improvement, especially in Jakarta. I wish that the government will take immediate action to make the judges' decisions into reality," she said.

"I really wish that the government will do persistent monitoring on air pollution, be more transparent to Jakarta residents and push stronger sanctions against those who contribute to pollution."

More than 10 million people live in Jakarta which regularly has PM2.5 levels higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Campaigners say much of the air pollution is caused by traffic fumes and emissions from coal power stations.

According to figures from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the city's bad air is responsible for the loss of an estimated 9,700 lives since 1 January, 2021 and has cost the local economy approximately $2.5 billion US dollars this year to date.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Greenpeace Indonesia country director and one of the 32 plaintiffs, said while they were celebrating the work wasn't over.

"We're delighted, this is a people's victory for us that 32 citizens can sue the president, three ministers and three governors. This is a problem of millions of people that we are bringing to the court and we are very happy that there is now a chance for an improvement of living quality starting with air quality in Jakarta," he said.

"This is really just the beginning, we still need to work together… to ensure that this court ruling materialises in the near future."

It is not clear if the defendants will be able to appeal.

Ayu Eza Tiara, a lawyer representing the residents group, said the ruling was sensible and appropriate, adding: "We hope the defendants can wisely accept their defeat and choose to focus on improving air conditions instead of doing useless things such as filing an appeal."

The court ruling comes as environmental groups urged Indonesia to extend a moratorium on new palm oil permits and improve its implementation, warning of a risk of losing millions of acres of forest to plantation expansion.

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