In a landmark lawsuit, Jakarta court found Indonesian President Joko Widodo and government officials guilty of failing to meet their duties to fulfil citizens' rights to clean air. Residents of the city hope that the verdict will force authorities to act on the capital city's notorious pollution.
Jakarta, which has a population of over 10 million people, is one of the world's most polluted cities, with PM2.5 — an inhalable, tiny pollutant that is particularly detrimental to human health — levels consistently exceeding World Health Organization standards, frequently by a factor of ten.
In July 2019, 32 plaintiffs filed a citizen lawsuit against the President, the ministers of environment, home affairs, and health, the governor of Jakarta and two provincial leaders. The plaintiffs, which included activists and people suffering from pollution-related disorders, did not ask for monetary compensation but rather for more stringent air quality assessments.
In a hearing that took place after being adjourned eight times since May, the court ruled the officials had violated environmental protection laws and failed to combat air pollution in the capital and its satellite cities that fall under the jurisdiction of Banten and West Java provinces, reported Arab News.
"We ordered the first defendant (the president) to tighten the national air quality standard that is sufficient based on science and technology to protect humans' health, the environment, the ecosystem, including the health of the sensitive population," presiding judge Saifuddin Zuhri was quoted as saying by Arab News.
According to the report, the court also ordered the second defendant, the environment minister, to supervise the governors of Jakarta, Banten, and West Java in tightening transboundary emissions.
Jeanny Sirait, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said they welcomed the verdict, even though the court did not explicitly rule the government had violated the right to clean but only contravened the law by failing to fulfil it.
"This is a breakthrough verdict," she said. "It is very rare to find judges that have environmental and public interest perspectives."
Istu Prayogi, a 56-year-old tourism lecturer whose health has been harmed by air pollution, told Arab News that he was relieved by the victory but upset that the officials' negligence was not categorised as a human rights violation.
"We now have a hope for all people to get their rights to clean air fulfilled," he said. "We have a legal standing to oblige the government to do that, even though they should have fulfilled that in the first place, but this is a court ruling and as a rule-based country, it's the highest order."
Another petitioner, Khalisah Khalid, an environmental activist, said the ruling showed that the court could be a place for citizens seeking justice.
"As plaintiffs and regular citizens, we will continue to monitor the defendants to make changes in the government policies as mandated by the verdict," she was quoted as saying by Arab News. "It is for everyone's interests, health, and safety, including our future generations, to have a good quality of life."
The poor and declining quality of Jakarta's air is exacerbated by transboundary pollution from Banten and West Java. According to the Center on Energy and Clean Air, the national capital had 101 days of poor air in 2018 and 172 in 2019. (CREA). Hundreds of industrial sites and coal power plants located less than 100 kilometres from the city are the main sources of PM2.5 pollution.