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Aceh court orders palm oil firm to pay for environmental damage

A court in the Aceh district of Meulaboh has declared palm oil company Kalista Alam guilty of clearing Rawa Tripa peat forests in Aceh by burning land.

“Based on trial evidence, we declare PT Kalista Alam guilty of having burned peatlands in Rawa Trip forest, which has caused environmental damages,” chief judge Rahmawati said, during a seven-hour reading of the verdict that ended on Wednesday night.

The Meulaboh District Court also ordered for the confiscation of 5,769-hectare land run by Kalista Alam in Aceh, and for the company to pay fines and restoration fees.

“We order PT Kalista Alam to compensate material losses worth Rp 114 billion ($9.45 million) and pay environment restoration fees totaling Rp 251 billion.”

The ruling also sets a Rp 5 million daily fine for each day the company delays paying the compensation and restoration costs.

The panel of judges at the court rejected all the company’s defense arguments. They said Kalista Alam’s activities in Rawa Tripa destroyed as many as 1,000 hectares of land in the peat forest, more specifically the sections situated in Darul Makmur subdistrict in the Aceh district of Nagan Raya.

The civic lawsuit was filed by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment in 2012, following intense protests from environmental activists against the company’s activities in the peatland forest.

The ministry originally demanded that Kalista Alam pay Rp 300 billion in compensation.

The Banda Aceh Administrative Court in May last year ruled in favor of Kalista Alam in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.

Kalista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then-Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August, 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and other rare animals.

The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) attempted to drag the governor to the Aceh state administrative court, but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012, to revoke the permit.

Kalista Alam’s lawyer, Alfian C. Sarumaha, told journalists after the hearing that his client would appeal the case.

“The judges [based the verdict] merely on several samples, and didn’t examine all the 1,000-hectare land allegedly [destroyed],” he said.

Kalista earlier argued that its burning of land in Rawa Tripa was already in line with existing regulations.

A director of Kalista Alam, identified only as S. R., and a subordinate are standing a separate trial in the same court in Meulaboh over a criminal lawsuit concerning the same case.

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