Suharto bans land clearing by burning
PRESIDENT Suharto, concerned with the worsening haze enveloping neighbouring countries and Indonesia’s largest provinces, yesterday ordered an indefinite ban on land clearing by fire and threatened firm action against companies for non-compliance.
Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja told reporters the President expressed concern over the problem, which could turn into a “great disaster” if steps were not taken to prevent such activities in the plantation and forestry sectors.
“The only way out is to order a stop to land clearing. We stand to gain nothing from such activities,” he said after a meeting with Mr Suharto.
Mr Sarwono met business leaders from 40 firms involved in the plantation and forestry sectors yesterday morning to discuss the matter and received assurances that they would observe the land clearing ban.
Violaters would have their business licences revoked and could face other legal action.
Under Indonesian law, offenders could be fined up to Rp 100 million (S$54,000) or receive jail terms of up to 10 years.
Mr Sarwono, who is coordinating the efforts of the Environment, Forestry and Agriculture ministries, also disclosed that the military and police were being brought in to ensure that the ban was observed.
Forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra – and the resulting smoke and haze affecting the region – were the result of land-clearing activities by plantation and forestry firms, and had destroyed 108,700 hectares of forest as of July this year.
Recent satellite-image monitoring and information from provinces confirmed that the recent fires were mostly from areas being cleared by large firms for plantations.
The fires often spread to nearby bush and forest areas.
Mr Sarwono said last week the actions of such firms accounted for 80 per cent of the forest fires in the country. The remaining 20 per cent resulted from traditional slash-and-burn clearance methods.
“All parties must stop land clearing, including for plantations, forest industries and resettlement areas,” he added.
Part of the problem stemmed from companies adopting a lax attitude to the whole matter, he said, adding that “they will only understand the gravity of the problem when it reaches a crisis point”.
In warning of stiff penalties against companies that violated the ban, he said: “The President has instructed that if they continued to disobey, serious punishments will be imposed.”
The government’s move came as the meteorological department, signalling that Indonesia’s worst dry season in 50 years could be ending, said rainfall was expected this month over many parts of the archipelago.
The department said in a statement that 35 per cent of the country was expected to receive rainfall this month and next month, while the rest were forecast to have rain in November and December.
Most parts of the country have been hit by drought from as early as April this year. The government warned in recent weeks that with the onset of the dry season, Indonesia could face its worst forest fires in 15 years.
News reports yesterday said haze and smoke over much of Sumatra caused major land and air traffic problems, particularly in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru. The visibility range was between 200 and 400 metres.
* Business leaders from 40 firms involved in the plantation and forestry sectors have given assurances that they would observe the land clearing ban.
* Violaters would have their business licences revoked and could face other legal action. Offenders could be fined up to Rp 100 million (S$54,000) or receive jail terms of up to 10 years.
* The military and police were being brought in to ensure that the ban was observed.