Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Sand quarriers damage Cisadane conservation area

Theresia Sufa, The Jakarta Post, Bogor

Mount Pasir Gudang has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sand, which hundreds of people are taking advantage of by illegally quarrying for sand there.

Covering a few hundred hectares, there are about 300 people every day illegally quarrying for sand there. These people, who work in groups of five to 10, come from the villages of Pasir Buncir, Srogol and Wates Jaya, all in Bogor regency.

The illegal quarriers, who dig as deep as 10 meters into the mountain, are seemingly unconcerned about the possibility of a landslide burying them alive.

Collect the sand quickly and get the money is the only thing on their mind. They don't care that they are trespassing on the private property of Bakti Hendra, a wealthy businessman from Jakarta.

These illegal sand quarriers have also turned a deaf ear to warnings that they are damaging a conservation area for the Cisadane River. They simply go through the gate that Bogor regency administration has put up and dig up more sand.

"We need money to eat," they answer when asked why they do what they do.

One of the sand quarriers is Arman, 38, who comes from Pasir Buncir village. He began digging for sand in 1997. Before that he sold corn, but his business went bust following the monetary crisis. To keep body and soul together, he shifted to sand quarrying.

"If the Bogor regency administration bans sand quarrying here, we wouldn't have any income source. We only make between Rp 15,000 and Rp 20,000 a day, just enough to buy two kilograms of rice," Arman said.

Work at the site usually lasts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The sand is sold to a middleman for Rp 90,000 per truckload. As Arman has said, each person earns an average of Rp 20,000 a day.

The middleman then sells the sand to another middleman for between Rp 150,000 and Rp 160,000 per truckload.

One of the middlemen is Kuswandi, a resident of Srogol village, Cijeruk district, Bogor regency. "I buy the sand from the quarriers for Rp 90,000 and then I resell it to other men who are based in Cijeruk district."

"I sell the sand for Rp 55,000 per cubic meter. Sometimes I can sell four truckloads a day. Recently, demand has been quite low. I hire 15 men to carry the sand. Each is paid Rp 10,000 a day," said Samsir, 45, one of the middlemen in Cijeruk district.

This illegal sand quarrying, which began in 1997, is done with the simplest of tools, like hoes, shovels and crowbars. Aside from selling sand, the villagers also sell stones that they excavate from the area. They usually sell the stones for Rp 30,000 per cubic meter.

It is clear that the illegal sand quarrying has caused damage to the environment. The most serious damage occurred in 1999, when a businessman brought in heavy machinery to carry out the quarrying. This left seven hectares of the Cisadane River conservation area denuded and seriously damaged.

This environmental damage could prove harmful to the community, particularly those living in Jakarta and the outlying areas of Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi. It is feared that if the upstream conservation area is destroyed, people living in downstream areas will be hit by flash floods during the rainy season and suffer from water shortages during the dry season.

Almost every year, the environmental damage done to the conservation area of the Cisadane River is a topic of debate during plenary meetings of the Bogor legislative council. The council tends to blame the Bogor regency administration for being too soft in dealing with the illegal sand quarrying.

The Bogor regency administration argues that it cannot take stern action because the people doing the quarrying are poor and are just trying to survive.

Agus Mudrajadjat, the head of the public order office in Caringin district, has his own explanation as to why nothing is being done to put a halt to the illegal sand quarrying.

"We closed the sand quarrying site six times between 2002 and this year. We have put up a gate at the entrance but illegal sand quarrying continues at the same pace. We are powerless against the hundreds, or even thousands, of illegal sand quarriers. It all depends on the land owner. In fact, he has said or done nothing about this matter."

The head of the administration's subsection in Caringin district, Rochmadin AR, agreed with Mudrajadjat.

"This plot of land used to be communal land owned by 45 people. In 1998 it was sold to Bakti Hendra. A land certificate under his name was issued in 2001. The owner applied to the regency administration for permission to turn this area into a quarry. The regency administration has yet to respond to this application," he said.

The mining office of the Bogor regency administration is firm in its stance that it will not allow the area to be turned into a legal quarry, though it has already become an illegal one.

However, the Bogor regency administration has yet to find a way to address the problem of environmental damage in the area. Instead, it is busy blaming others.