Disputed cement plant in Central Java stays on track
Marguerite Afra Sapiie
The Jakarta Post
Even with their feet buried in concrete blocks for five days in front of the State Palace, the protests by a group of farmers from the Kendeng mountain area against a cement factory in Rembang, Central Java, have apparently been ignored.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is expected to inaugurate the state-run cement maker Semen Indonesia’s factory next month, according to State-Owned Enterprises (SEO) Minister Rini Soemarno following her visit to the factory on Friday.
“The factory’s development has been completed, and it will operate smoothly […] but, the inauguration will wait for the results from the KLHS [strategic environmental assessment], which hopefully, will be completed in April,” Rini said.
Repeated calls by the farmers for Jokowi to shut down the cement factory are not a problem for Rini, who claimed that the farmers only represented 5 percent of locals who opposed the construction and that the majority of villagers supported the cement factory.
The Mount Kendeng Community Network (JMPPK) has staged protests against the issuance of the new environmental permit for Semen Indonesia in Jakarta since Monday.
“Whatever the [government’s] plan is, we will continue to oppose the cement factory in Rembang. The environmental damage is too high and the karst ecosystem in the area should be protected,” Joko Priyanto, an activist with the JMPPK, told The Jakarta Post.
In October last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of farmers and ordered Semen Indonesia to cease its activities. Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo revoked the permit on Jan. 16, but he issued a new environmental permit on Feb. 23.
From 10 farmers seen protesting under the sun on Monday, the fifth day of the protest on Friday saw 50 farmers who were committed to cementing their feet until Jokowi responded to their calls.
Gun Retno, a farmer from Pati, said water supply during draught season in areas around Kendeng mountain had been decreasing due to mining sites and deforestation. “With high population density, Java needs to preserve the environment and ensure water supply. Without water it’s impossible for [farmers] to plant. How can we produce food for people to eat?” Gun told the Post.
Two state rights bodies have stepped up to support the farmers in a quest to preserve karst ecology, which according to the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), is on the brink of crisis with only 5,500 square kilometers, 4 percent, of total land area on Java.
National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) commissioner Muhammad Nurkhoiron urged the government to immediately issue a government regulation on karst ecology to ensure preservation and utilization of karst regions for common interests without violating human rights.
“What these farmers are fight- ing for is not only for us but for future generations as well,” Nurkhoiron said.
Last year, Jokowi ordered Rembang’s cement factory to cease operations until the KLHS report was complete. Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki said the KLHS would take about a year.
Yanuar Nugroho, a deputy in the Presidential Office, said they could not confirm whether or not President Jokowi would inaugurate the cement factory next month. “We are monitoring the progress of the KLHS report, which is currently in the hands of the Environment and Forestry Ministry,” Yanuar told the Post.
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