Samarinda, East Kalimantan. The East Kalimantan legislature is set to report M.S. Kaban, the former forestry minister, to the authorities for a decree he issued in 2009 that has been blamed for the deforestation of a protected forest in the province.
Andi Harun, a provincial legislator, said on Thursday that the main point of contention in the decree was that it revised an earlier map defining the borders of the Bukit Suharto community forest in Kutai Kartanegara district.
The decree effectively expanded the forest’s size from 61,850 hectares to 67,766 hectares — and in the process extended the conservation area to include 50 coal mines that had been established outside the forest’s initial periphery.
“The decree brought all of these mining concessions inside the community forest, yet allowed them to keep operating until their permits expired,” Andi said.
He pointed out that this violated articles under the 2004 Forestry Law that prohibit mining in community forests and restrict the activity to production forests.
Another contentious aspect of the decree is that most of the new forest area tacked on came from a neighboring forest used by Samarinda’s Mulawarman University for biodiversity research purposes.
Scientists from the university’s Tropical Forest Research Center said last month that less than a third of the research forest remained intact, with the rest razed by loggers, miners and property developers.
Andi also said it was strange that Kaban had issued the decree just a day before the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hence the term of his first cabinet, came to an end. Kaban was not reappointed as forestry minister in Yudhoyono’s second term.
Andi said the East Kalimantan legislature would discuss its findings before filing a report with the authorities.
He said that in the report, the legislature would call for the closure of 15 mines inside the forest as well as the revocation of hauling permits for coal trucking operations, for which the miners are currently clearing a road through the forest.
The hauling permit itself has come under scrutiny, with the provincial forestry office admitting that it received three patrol cars from the mining companies in exchange for recommending the companies for the permit.
“Our final recommendation will be for all the permits to be revoked and work on the hauling road to be stopped,” Andi said. “We have to restore the forest to its state as a conservation forest.”
Isal Wardhana, executive director of the provincial chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), agreed that mining should never have been allowed inside the conservation forest.