South Sumatra residents to file class action suit against firms causing haze

South Sumatra residents to file class action suit against firms causing haze

The companies suspected of burning land and causing transboundary haze are Asia Agri, Golden Agri Resources, Wilmar, Sime Darby, and Asia Pulp and Paper.

JAKARTA: A group of Indonesian residents in Jambi, South Sumatra are in the final stages of preparing a class action lawsuit against five companies responsible for the forest fires that have caused massive air pollution in Indonesia and across the region.

They are expected to serve notice to these companies this month.

Mr Musri Nauli is one of 20 advocates representing the residents of Jambi in a lawsuit against companies suspected of burning land. These companies are Asia Agri, Golden Agri Resources, Wilmar, Sime Darby and Asia Pulp and Paper.

More than 50 locals of the Indonesian province of Sumatra have stepped forward to act, and to see justice served.

According to reports, thousands of people living in Jambi have developed respiratory infections after breathing the acrid air, while others have suffered lost income.

They are claiming a total of 51 trillion rupiah (US$3.5 billion) in losses.

"There are two kinds of losses: Firstly, losses that can be calculated to around 7 trillion rupiah, the companies have to compensate that. There is also the cost of recovering the land which has been destroyed, and we have calculated that to be 44 trillion rupiah," said Mr Musri.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment or Walhi, is helping the plaintiffs with their lawsuit. Walhi has conducted its own legal battle against companies and acknowledges it faces a challenge ahead.

"Walhi won its claim during the forest fires which destroyed some 11.6 million hectares in 1998, and one more in 2000 in South Kalimantan,” said Mr Mukri Fatriani, an ecology disaster campaigner from Walhi. “From then on, 14 years have passed and we have not won any other claims."

Walhi said that even though there are clear laws, these have not been enforced.

Those taking the companies to court are confident of getting a positive result.

"The 2015 incident is different from earlier incidents. This year is extraordinary,” said Mr Musri. “Indonesia and our neighbours Malaysia and Singapore are directly affected. It wasn’t as bad before. So, this is what gives us energy to fight.

“Secondly, I’m confident that because this claim is from the desire of the community, we will try. If you ask what our chances are, the law has to improve to answer the haze problem objectively, and I'm confident we can win this legal battle."

It's not only in Indonesia that citizens are taking action. A volunteer group in Singapore is also helping those affected by the haze in the city state to sue companies responsible for the air pollution. The group called the Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT) plans to take legal action against companies prosecuted by Singapore and Indonesian authorities.

Source: CNA/ek