Suhardi, a community leader in Karya Jaya Village, Kutai Kartanegara, has been fighting with the residents for years against illegal mining operations in the Bukit Soeharto Community Forest Park (Tahura) area. The illegal mines have damaged the Samboja Reservoir, which is the only source of water for residents for daily life.
“For consumption, for agriculture, animal husbandry, what is clearly visible is the loss of our people’s livelihood from fishing, which usually our people work for fishing in the reservoir area,” said Suhardi.
Only snakehead fish remains in the Samboja Reservoir, other types of fish such as tilapia that were once abundant are now extinct. The situation is getting worse because the clean water of 458 families or approximately 1,600 people, comes entirely from the reservoir.
“October 2019, we immediately came to the Palace, to the DPR, to the Police Headquarters, to the TNI, to write letters regarding that. The team from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has come down, but after several months the illegal mines are still active,” added Suhardi, shedding disappointment.
They are confused about who to complain to. The government did not act, even though it was clear that the location of the illegal mine was in the Tahura area.
Suhardi spoke in a discussion related to illegal mining in East Kalimantan, Monday (28/2). This discussion also marked the establishment of the Indonesian Caucus for Academic Freedom (KIKA), East Kalimantan.
Legal, Illegal Same Problem
From a negative impact point of view, mining does not see it as legal or illegal. Haris Retno Susmiyati from KIKA East Kalimantan admits that illegal mining is clearly problematic, but that even legal ones have bad consequences because of the very wide allocation of space.
“So, the official one is 44 percent of the entire land area in East Kalimantan. So he dominates. Now, that has not been added to the illegal mining, of course the problem will increase,” said Retno.
In fact, because the concession permits granted by the government to legal mines are very broad, the problems may be bigger. Retno gave an example of a mining company in East Kutai that was granted coal mining rights covering an area of more than 90 thousand hectares. In fact, there are other companies that plan to receive double the concession, although currently they are still experiencing legal problems.
Illegal mining is currently receiving more attention from KIKA, said Retno, due to a number of factors.
“For this illegal mining business, the voices of the community have been very strong in voicing how the problem is. It can no longer be tolerated,” added Retno.
The second reason is about the legal umbrella. From either side, the legal basis for cracking down on illegal mining is very strong. To take action, there is no need to prove environmental documents or evidence related to damage.
“Sometimes, proving it takes time and a long process. If mining is illegal, the important thing is he no If you have a permit, you can immediately take action,” he said.
The sociologist at the State University of Jakarta, Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir, also assessed that in terms of the impact of mining, the issue of legal and illegal boundaries is not the main issue.
“If it turns out that what is defined as legal is based on the law, while the law can be made up according to the groups or parties in power. To what extent can we categorize it as legal,” he said.
Therefore, this legal issue should not only be determined by the state. Non-state actors, especially the community, also have a say in the legality of mining operations.
“So, it’s a bit problematic if we draw a firm line, legal and illegal, because there are many legal ones who have problems. The line between legal and illegal is getting blurry,” he added.
Legal Mine with Colossal Impact
In the eyes of Pradarma Rupang of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) of East Kalimantan, the scale of damage to legal mines is actually colossal. Illegal and legal mines are equally destructive, but the scale of damage to legal mines is far more dire.
“He destroys rivers, destroys the order of production patterns, people’s consumption patterns, culture, the same. One, the scale may be quantitatively on the RT scale. If it’s legal, because the permit covers tens of thousands of hectares, the scale of the damage is also widespread,” he said.
The government has indeed implemented an Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal) as a means to prevent environmental damage due to mining. However, according to Pradarma, currently EIA is actually being used as a legal tool to damage the environment.
“The Amdal is an instrument to be allowed to damage. So, in the miners’ book, he says that this predicts damage,” he added.
Predictions about the damage were then conveyed to the public in a more lenient language. However, the bottom line is that EIA is still a means for mining companies to greet residents that they will damage the surrounding environment.
The impact is very clear. In the case of the availability of clean water, as described by Suhardi above, the means of life that used to come regularly to people’s homes have disappeared.
“It’s no longer just polluted, but lost,” said Pradarma emphasizing.
Call for Academicians
Academics and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), may now be the remaining parties for the people, to work together to solve problems caused by illegal and legal mining in East Kalimantan.
This awareness was conveyed by the East Kalimantan KIKA Coordinator, Herdiansyah Hamzah.
“Our task as intellectuals is not only to reproduce knowledge, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to fight together for how we can solve these public problems,” he said.
Herdiansyah said the problems in East Kalimantan were not just about illegal mining. The extractive industry has created problems of land use change, environmental pollution, to reclamation that is not carried out, and results in the loss of human life.
“If we refer to your data, from 2011-2022 there have been 40 lives lost in the mining pit, which were not reclaimed by the concession holder,” he added.
Mining pits are created because miners take coal, and then just leave when they are finished operating. Holes in the fields can be hundreds of meters deep, and some are poisonous. Of the 40 deaths, the majority occurred in children. And ironically, only out of dozens of cases, only one was investigated by the police. And even then it only touches subcontractors, and not mining business license holders. In fact, Law 4/2009 concerning Mineral and Coal Mining clearly states that the responsibility for this issue lies with the concession holder.
“Unfortunately, this one case was only sentenced to 3 months in prison with a fine of one thousand rupiah. How is it possible that the lost human lives in the former mining pits, the majority of whom are children, can be exchanged for one thousand rupiahs,” said Herdiansyah.
The role of campus academics in East Kalimantan is also increasingly strategic because the mining industry has an unresolved impact. Houses and schools are damaged, pollution due to dust makes residents exposed to respiratory infections, and various other problems. Meanwhile, the legal apparatus did not do enough to overcome it. [ns/ah]