Skip navigation

Indramayu farmers against coal power

Wahyu Widianto ‒ FoE Perth member; former campaigner, WALHI West Java (FoE Indonesia)

The planned expansion of Indramayu coal-fired power station in West Java, Indonesia threatens the livelihoods of thousands of farmers. Farmers from the Indramayu Coal Smokeless Network (JATAYU) who have demanded that their human rights are respected, and insisted on basic procedural fairness, have been criminalised. The massive investment required for this land grab and development is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This is the story of three farmers arrested for protesting the lack of justice in Indramayu.

Improper consultation on land acquisition and environmental permits

At the end of 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo gave instructions to accelerate land acquisition for the expansion of the Indramayu coal power plant, which would have a capacity of 2 x 1000 megawatts (MW). During the entire process of forced land acquisition, no space was ever provided for the public to submit objections.

 In the public consultation meeting in February 2016, held in the Patrol sub-district, the land acquisition committee (TP2T) and the state-owned electricity company (PLN) only invited supportive landowners and selected community leaders. This manufactured agreement on the location of the development. Meanwhile, according to Law No. 2 of 2012 concerning land acquisition for development in the public interest, the land acquisition committee is obliged to invite affected communities and tenant farmers as rightful parties, in addition to land owners.

In July‒August 2016, after land acquisition had begun, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) sent consultants to make a Land Acquisition Plan (LAP). The LAP should have been prepared prior to the land acquisition so that social problems could be anticipated. According to JICA's own guidelines: "Democratic decision-making is indispensable for environmental and social considerations. It is important to ensure stakeholder participation, information transparency, accountability, and efficiency, in addition to respect for human rights, in order to conduct an appropriate decision-making process."

Resisters Sawin (50), Sukma (35) and Nanto (41) are typical of hundreds of tenant farmers and farm labourers who lost their livelihoods due to the plan to expand the Indramayu coal power plant. Together with his wife, Sawin had rented land within the planed project site to plant rice and onions. Besides losing their livelihood, Sawin and his family did not receive compensation for lost crops. As a tenant farmer, he should be involved in every process, from consultation to pricing and compensation of crops.

Sawin Sukma and Nanto live in Mekarsari village together with about 55 other families. Their hamlet is only 150 metres from the planned construction site. Residents will face significant negative impacts from reduced air quality, along with derivative impacts on health. Resident Pulo Kuntul notes several reasons why residents object to the presence of a coal power plant: "First, health threats because of declining air quality. Second, seizing people's land. In fact, this is all productive land. Third, the elimination of employment, especially for mothers. If we farm, we usually work together. If there is coal power plant, what kind of mother will work?"

Errors and legal defects

The environmental permits for the construction Indramayu coal power plant 2 x 1000 MW contains substantial errors and legal defects including:

  • There has been no involvement of affected communities. This is a violation of government regulation PP27/2012 concerning environmental permits and ministerial direction LH17/2012 concerning guidelines for community involvement.·                          
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document had expired before the permit was isssued in 2015. This violates Law No. 32/2009.

Furthermore, the process of land acquisition and the issuance of environmental permits that are not participatory is clearly contrary to the basic policies, processes and procedures contained in JICA guidelines on environment and social consideration. Especially that: "Appropriate and accessible grievance mechanisms must be established for the affected persons and their communities." And: "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations: to promote respect for human rights and freedoms, and to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance. Environmental and social considerations refer not only to the natural environment, but also to social issues such as involuntary resettlement and respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples."

Criminalisation and human rights violations

In July 2017, community members from the Indramayu Coal Smokeless Network (JATAYU) filed suit over the environmental permit through the state administrative court in Bandung. Their main reason is that there is a health threat that will occur if the power plant has a capacity of 2 x 1000 MW. In addition, they allege that there was no community participation in planning and compiling environmental documents.

After a lengthy trial process, the community lawsuit over environmental permit of Indramayu Plant was upheld by an administrative court judge on December 6, 2017. The judge ordered the governor of West Java to revoke the environmental permit for the expansion.

Eleven days after the victory, at 1am on December 17, Sawin Sukma and Nanto were arrested. Armed police officers arrested both of them on allegations of insulting the flag of the Republic of Indonesia on December 15, 2017, as prohibited by Law No. 24 of 2009. They had been holding the Indonesian flag upside down at a protest to signal distress.

Sukma was arrested without a warrant. It was days later that his family received an arrest warrant through the Mekarsari village apparatus. One day later, the community advocacy team requested a detention suspension and the police allowed them to go home. On September 24, 2018, farmers day, Sawin and Sukma were officially detained and imprisoned in the Indramayu penitentiary.

Previously, in March, four Mekarsari villagers had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment for alleged acts of violence against a person who won the tender for the construction of an extra high voltage substation of Indramayu coal power plant. Among them is Taniman (55), one of the three plaintiffs of the case against the Indramayu coal power plant permit. They were released in September 2018.

Mekarasi villagers have experienced continuous threats and criminalisation when they fight for environmental rights and health. In the name of development and economic interests, the Indonesian government and JICA continue to force the construction of the Indramayu coal power plant. All of this encourages severe human rights and environmental violations such as the loss of livelihoods, pollution and destruction of marine resources, police surveillance, intimidation and, criminalisation.

There was a conspiracy between the companies and security apparatus to use strategic laws against public participation (SLAPP). They intimidate and criminalise the community to stop taking action to against the proposed coal-fired power plant.

We urge the Japanese government to immediately reject funding of this coal fired power plant as such funding is another betrayal by Japan of the efforts every country is making to dramatically decrease carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and a 2°C global warming limit.

We also urge the Indonesian government to release Sawin and Sukma immediately. Any Indonesian citizen who fights for a good and healthy environment, should not be prosecuted or sued (article 66 Law No 32/2009 concerning environment). They are climate warriors, they have struggled not just for their lives but fight for all of humanity against the threat of climate disaster. Without farmers, what will you eat?

WALHI West Java has been working with the Indramayu Coal Smokeless Network (JATAYU) in seven villages since 2015. FoE Japan has also demonstrated their solidarity, including by organising a protest at the Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo.

Edited by Lian Sinclair, FoE Perth

Background to the Indramayu power station

Size of productive area : 269,7 Ha. Capacity : 2 x 1000 MW. Jica has provided the loan for engineering service (1,727 million yen) of this project in march 2013. In 2015, the Indonesian government announced plans to add 35,000 MW of new electricity generation capacity in Indonesia between 2015 – 2019 to meet predicted demand. The Indramayu expansion is part of the drive to reach 35 GW of additional power. Land acquisition in Indonesia is governed by new land law (Law no.2 /2012). However, the law does not provide enough rights for community dissent. In this case, the community has officially sent an objection letter to the land acquisition land committee, but did not receive a response.

Published in Chain Reaction #134, December 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

Continue Reading

Read More