JAKARTA: The Attorney-General of Indonesia on Monday (Jul 22) defended the government after the country's Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling which blamed President Joko Widodo and his cabinet ministers, as well as regional administrations, for failing to control the wildfires in 2015.
The wildfires which raged through Indonesia in 2015 caused thick haze to engulf the country and neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, the Jakarta Post reported on Monday.
“The conclusion is the government should fulfil its obligation to protect its citizens against the disaster," said Supreme Court spokesman Abdullah after the ruling on Friday. "It should work on necessary efforts to stop wildfires from happening."
Attorney-General H M Prasetyo on Monday said the government has acted to tackle the wildfires issue.
"Recent statistics show that forest fires have decreased in numbers. Many individuals and companies have also been charged in court, and will eventually be convicted," he said, as quoted by online news outlet Merdeka.
The lawsuit was filed by environmentalists and residents of Central Kalimantan, who were among the most affected by the disaster, the Jakarta Post reported. It urged the government to take responsibility for the wildfires and for the treatment of survivors.
Intense fires raged across more than 330,000 hectares of forests and lands in 2015, reported Antara news agency, citing data from Indonesia's disaster agency (BNPB).
A 2016 study by Harvard and Columbia universities estimated about 100,000 people across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia died prematurely from the pollution as a result of the fires - a claim which the Indonesian government has rejected.
The study claims the pollution exposure killed about 91,600 people in Indonesia, 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore in 2015 and 2016, which is significantly higher than government records.
Local environmentalists also estimated that the disaster caused around 500,000 cases of acute respiratory infection, the Jakarta Post reported.
The ruling upheld by the country's highest court ordered the President, along with the environment and forestry minister, health minister and Central Kalimantan governor, to build a lung hospital that provides free treatment for the 2015 haze survivors, the report added. Other hospitals in Central Kalimantan were also told to provide free treatment for the victims.
The government was also ordered to disclose the companies which owned the burnt lands, and the amount of each company's environmental guarantee fund.
Responding to the ruling, presidential chief of staff Moeldoko said the government has made some efforts to extinguish and prevent wildfires, and that it will file for a case review.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar defended the government's work in tackling wildfires, citing tougher law enforcement on individuals as well as companies suspected of causing the fires.
Riesqi Rahmadiansyah, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, denounced the government's intention to file for a case review.
The plan for a review has also invited criticism from activists.
“The least they can do is to accept the ruling and match what they have done with our demands in the lawsuit," said Greenpeace Indonesia's Arie Rompas, as quoted by the Jakarta Post.
Last month, Indonesia's weather agency (BMKG) warned that this year's dry spell could be worse than the previous year's.
The government on Thursday urged 11 provinces prone to land and forest fires to impose emergency alert status. This comes after five provinces declared the status, based on Indonesian weather agency's (BMKG) forecast.
The province of Riau, located west of Singapore and West Malaysia, is among the five provinces.