November 20, 2023
JAKARTA – Civil society groups have urged authorities to act seriously in improving Jakarta’s air quality after the Supreme Court rejected the central government’s appeal against a ruling on a citizen lawsuit pertaining to air pollution in the city.
On Nov. 13, the court rejected a cassation petition filed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the environment and forestry minister, home minister and health minister against a ruling issued by the Central Jakarta District Court that found officials in the central and local administrations guilty of negligence for failing to tackle air pollution in the capital.
The ruling means that a panel of justices, presided by Takdir Rahmadi, upheld the district court’s ruling issued following a two-year legal battle over the lawsuit filed by 32 residents of Greater Jakarta in a movement named Koalisi Ibu Kota (Capital City Coalition), the first of its kind in the country.
In 2019, the coalition sued the President, environment minister, health minister, home minister and the governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java, aiming to hold them accountable for choking air pollution over the capital. The plaintiffs demanded the defendants implement regulations to improve air quality in Jakarta.
Responding to the district court’s ruling in 2021, officials of the central government filed an appeal with the Jakarta High Court, arguing the district court judges failed to take into account new regulations pertaining to air quality. The Jakarta administration, at the time led by then governor Anies Baswedan, decided not to appeal the ruling.
The high court ruled against the appeal in October of last year.
Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) director Citra Referandum, who also served as the coalition’s legal representative, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling against the government’s cassation petition, which she described as an effort to evade responsibility to provide clean air for the residents of Jakarta.
“We strongly urge the President and his administration […] to stop using legal means to avoid fulfilling their legal obligations to improve the city’s air quality,” she said in a statement on Friday.
Jakarta is among the world’s most polluted major cities, according to air quality monitoring firm IQAir. The daily air quality in August and September was consistently ranked as “unhealthy” due to the high concentration of PM2.5. PM2.5 is a fine pollutant and its concentration in Jakarta has been recorded at up to five times the safety threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
No more running
The government can file a case review petition to challenge the ruling, but only if it can find new evidence or arguments against the judges’ ruling, said environmental activist Khalisah Khalid, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Otherwise, [the ruling] is final [and the government] must carry out what is ordered in the ruling,” she said on Saturday.
Among the provisions requested by the plaintiffs is the revision of the country’s PM2.5 quality standard to follow the latest threshold set by the WHO, according to Yuyun Ismawati of environmental group Nexus3 Foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry must supervise and coordinate with the governors of Jakarta, Banten and West Java in integrating actions from each region to improve the air quality.
Yuyun also urged the environment ministry to make public data on the sources of pollutants that have been choking Jakarta, including from small and large industries.
“There’s an online platform already recording substances emitted by the industries in Indonesia,” Yuyun said. “But the information can only be accessed by the officials and the industry reporting the data.”
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry should also immediately work to identify non-communicable diseases caused by the pollution in Jakarta by confirming, among other data, the cause of a recent increase in the National Health Insurance (JKN) provided by state-owned Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan).
When Jakarta topped the IQAir’s ranking of air pollution in August and September, many city residents complained of persistent coughs, flu and fevers.
The Jakarta provincial administration and the central government did make some efforts to curb emissions, including instructing many public employees to work from home for two months and imposing fines for private vehicles failing emissions tests. But analysts deemed the measures ineffective as the air quality hardly improved.
“If the President [persists] in evading the court ruling,” Yuyun said, “[the coalition] will continue to put pressure until the government does what we ask.”
Officials from the Environment and Forestry Ministry were not immediately available for comment. (alf)