INDONESIA has taken administrative action against five pulpwood companies in the Riau province believed responsible for the illegal forest fires that compounded the 2015 haze crisis, said to be the worst in over a decade.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said the companies were slapped with administrative sanctions, the Straits Times reported on Friday. She explained that the ministry has revoked the licenses of three companies, Dexter Timber Perkasa, Siak Raya Timber and Hutani Sola Lestari.
Operations of Sumatera Riang Lestari, and another firm Rimba Lazuardi have also been temporarily suspended until they comply with conditions, including having the capacity to monitor potential fires and to manage them if they occur, Siti said.
Earlier this year, the Riau provincial police dropped charges against a total of 15 firms, including the five facing action, over a lack of evidence. The inaction led to protests and the setting up of a parliamentary commission for law, human rights and security to review the decision.
The committee is now looking to gather evidence by summoning the Riau legislative council members.
It will also present its findings to Parliament and will call on the police to revive investigations if it finds evidence of wrongdoing by any company.
Haze largely caused by illegal slash-and-burn agricultural policies in Indonesia has affected the Southeast Asian region annually for decades.
Uncontrolled burning from fires in Riau, South Sumatra, and Kalimantan causes the smoke to spread hundreds of kilometers across the region to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, resulting in major deterioration in air quality levels, health problems, and economic losses.
A recent study by researchers at the Harvard and Columbia universities found that the fires that choked a swath of Southeast Asia with a smoky haze for weeks last year may have caused more than 100,000 premature deaths.
The study found there is a high statistical probability that early deaths ranged between 26,300 and 174,300. Its main estimate of 100,300 deaths is the average of those two figures. It predicts 91,600 deaths in Indonesia, another 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore.
However, Singapore’s Health Ministry refuted the findings, saying the study’s estimated 2,200 premature deaths in Singapore from the haze crisis in 2015 was “not reflective of the actual situation”.
It said this is because the modelling studies were based on “various assumptions” and the accuracy of the estimates were influenced by the validity of the assumptions.