Fri, 27 Jun 2003

City administration refuses to enforce pollution law

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Residents claim that the companies in Rawa Terate subdistrict at the Pulo Gadung Industrial Estate in East Jakarta are serious air polluters, despite a clean air agreement that they all signed two years ago.

Despite that, they cannot be held responsible as yet, due to the lack of specific laws regulating such violations, claimed a senior official at the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD).

Yusiono Anwar Supalal, head of the agency's division for air pollution management, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that the factories were actually participants in the Blue Sky program which made it mandatory for them to control their pollution within 18 months of signing a special agreement back in June 2001.

The participants include PT Jakarta Cakra Tunggal Steel Mills, PT Jakarta Steel Megahutama, PT The Master Steel Mfg. Co and PT Jakarta Prima Steel Industries.

However, it has been exactly 24 months since the agreements were signed and residents around the area claim they have seen no significant changes in the air pollution level. Some residents even stated that the pollution had become worse.

According to the agreement, there are supposed to be legal consequences if any factory fails to comply within the 18-month period, or by January of this year. However, there is as yet no bylaw that specifies those consequences, Supalal said.

"We have forwarded the draft of the bylaw on air pollution to the City Council," he said, adding that he had no idea when the draft would be brought up for deliberation.

In the meantime, the agency can only conduct investigations based on residents' complaints and media reports, said Ridwan Panjaitan, the head of the agency's division for environmental impact analysis.

No representatives from the factories could be reached for comment.

Mas Ahmad Santoso, a researcher from the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), said that waiting for a bylaw before taking any legal action in serious pollution cases was a ridiculous situation.

He said that the agency should investigate the case in Pulo Gadung right away and forward the findings to the police.

The Jakarta Environmental Management Agency has investigators to probe such cases and they can cooperate with the office of the state minister of the environment as well as with the police, said Santoso.

He said that if the agency failed to take action right away, it would mean that it also would be in violation of the law, and could be sued in the State Administrative Court (PTUN).

Santoso said that the agency indeed had a legal precedent to refer to -- the pollution case involving PT Menara Jaya in Ciracas, East Jakarta, back in the early 1990s.

The company dumped liquid chromium into a field and a pond, eventually affecting the health of the residents who lived in the area.

After three years of trials, the court sent the company director to jail for one year and required the company to pay for the residents' health bills for as long as a any chromium-related illnesses are reported.

Last week the residents, including some health officials, in Rawa Terate subdistrict, had complained that yellowish brown smoke, which regularly emanates from a number of steel factories in the area, was degrading their health.

The residents refer to the smoke as a "dust shower", as dust often falls like rain from some of the factories.

According to a publication released by the agency, any type of solids in the air such as dust or other particles which remain suspended for extended periods can cause cancer and bronchitis.