Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. The Kutai Kartanegara district administration has vowed to freeze all coal mining activities in the vicinity of a local school after complaints about classes being disrupted by excessive amounts of dust.
Rita Widyasari, the district head, said on Sunday that she had ordered the district education office to move the students from State Junior High School (SMPN) No. 2 in Loa Kulu subdistrict to another school for the time being.
“The students’ needs have to be prioritized,” she said.
“For now, we’ve ordered a suspension of all coal mining while we try to find a mutually agreeable solution. Whether that means the school has to be permanently relocated, we won’t know yet.”
For the past two weeks, classes at the school have had to be held outdoors because of the daily discovery of a thick layer of black dust coating all the furnishings inside the classrooms.
Residents of Jembayan village, where the school is located, have also complained about coal dust billowing out every afternoon over a three-kilometer radius from stockpiles managed by three mining companies, Astaminindo, Bara Kumala Sakti and Beringin Jaya Abadi.
Mahmud, the village secretary, said officials had been holding talks about the problem with the companies and that although the miners had responded positively, no solution had been reached.
Yasmet, head of environmental control at the district environmental management agency, or BPLHD, said his office would carry out a six-month survey of the impact of the three miners’ activities.
He said that if the survey found that the amount of dust being generated breached allowable limits, then the companies could be punished under the terms of the 2009 Environmental Protection Law.
“If indeed there is an excessive amount of dust reaching the school and residential areas, then it’s possible that we could shut down the mines,” he said.
Baharuddin Demu, a deputy speaker of the Kutai Kartanegara legislature, said a visual inspection of the school made it clear that there was a very large amount of dust coming from the miners’ stockpiles, and called for the mines to be closed.
There was no immediate comment from the companies on the issue.
East Kalimantan has seen a boom in coal mining in recent years, with Kutai Kartanegara alone responsible for more than a quarter of the nearly 800 exploration and extraction licenses issued last year across the province.
The district administration has also come under fire for allowing miners to operate inside the 62,000-hectare Bukit Suharto community forest, a protected area.
The district forestry office has previously admitted to receiving a gift of three patrol cars from the miners in exchange for recommending the companies for a hauling license, which would let them cut a road through the forest to truck out their coal. However, it argues that regulations allow it to take non-monetary gifts.
Additional reporting from Antara