Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Japanese govt sued over power project

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

The Tokyo court has accepted a lawsuit against the Japanese government which helped finance the construction of a controversial hydropower project in the Riau district of Koto Panjang, says an environmental activist.

The lawsuit was filed by more than 8,200 residents of 12 villages in West Sumatra and Riau provinces and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) representing protected elephants whose habitat was affected by the project.

Ali Hasan Nasution, a member of the legal team who represented the residents and elephants in the case, told The Jakarta Post here on Thursday that his team had received good news from the Tokyo court that the court found the case feasible for trial.

"Thank God, the Tokyo court accepted the case on Wednesday and found it feasible to be tried due to the adequate evidence we have already handed over," he said.

The residents and Walhi sued the Japanese government, which they said should be held partly responsible for the project and its negative impact on locals and the environment.

The hydropower project with a capacity of 338 megawatts was constructed between 1990 and 1998 with financial aid of Rp 2.1 trillion (US$256 million), while the local administration has not paid any compensation for the thousands of hectares of farmland appropriated by force for the project's giant dam.

Hundreds of elephants also had to leave their habitat in the thousands of hectares of protected forest affected by the project.

Ali Hasan said the government once pledged to pay local residents compensation for the land and provide a two-hectare rubber plantation for every family affected by the project but so far the pledge has not been fulfilled.

"The residents have frequently demonstrated before the provincial legislative council and the governor's office to demand compensation but the local authorities have not given any response to our demand," he said.

He said that the residents had moved to other districts after the 12 villages, mostly in West Sumatra, and thousands of hectares of farmland and rubber plantations were submerged in the giant dam.

Director of Walhi in Riau Rully Sumanda said the Tokyo court also accepted Walhi's representation of the affected elephants.

"We took several affected elephants' footprints on several pieces of paper to show their approval for the lawsuit and the court accepted it," he said.

Rully said Walhi and the residents would also sue Governor Saleh Djasit who should be named a key suspect in the case due to his role as Kampar regent when the project was still under way.

Rally said the governor had ignored the people's demand for compensation.

"It is better for us to bring the case to court to seek justice," he said, explaining that the legal team was preparing a lawsuit against the governor.