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Illegal Coal Mining is Still Rising in East Kalimantan

Piles of coal piled up on the banks of the river in Sanga Sanga Muara RT 7, Sanga Sanga District, Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, last January. Two excavators are in action collecting the jet black object at the coal stockpiling port in the middle of this settlement.

This allegedly illegal coal mine was stopped when there was a lot of talk about Ismail Bolong , an owner of an illegal coal mine—but in January 2023, heavy equipment was back in action.

“Twenty days down, continue activities again,” said a local resident.

The coal port, which has been active for about a year, is surrounded by a three meter high wall with the area of ​​one football field.

Flying dust, noise and vibrations from activities at the coal port disturb residents’ comfort.

“The house is cracked and the tin roof of the house is leaking. The water we use every day is polluted by coal waste,” said Suhartono, a local resident.

Some of the affected residents have reported to the government and officials, from the district to the province, urging this disruptive activity to stop.

Dedy, a resident of Sanga Sanga, said that there are still around 20 ports suspected of being illegal around Sanga-sanga to Anggana Kutai Kartanegara.

Exploitation of illegal coal mines has been going on for a long time in Kalimantan at the same time as the issuance of mining business permits (IUP) from district and city governments began in the early 2000s.

In the last four years, starting in 2018, especially in eastern Kalimantan, illegal mining has been going crazy. This case of illegal coal mining became busy, after the video of Ismail Bolong, a former police officer who is also the owner of an illegal coal mine, went viral. Ismail’s case is still in the legal process.

The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) said that over the past four years there have been 168 illegal coal mines operating in the province with an area of ​​around 12 million hectares.

Mareta Sari, Jatam East Kalimantan Dynamics said, since 2018, Jatam had reported illegal mining activities to the police at 11 points until November 2022. The reports had minimal action.

He said, only two points were followed up, namely, the illegal mining case in Muang Dalam and Makroman in Samarinda.

On social media, another recording circulated on January 21, 2023, when illegal coal mines resumed operations in Muang Dalam.

However, Mareta did not deny that the police had already taken action on illegal coal mining cases apart from the Jatam report. “Maybe they have taken action because they don’t have to convey it to Jatam either,” he said.

The police took action in Jonggon Kutai Kartenegara a few months ago. The action was taken after Ismail Bolong’s story surfaced on social media.

Illegal mining crime pattern

Muhammad Jamil, Coordinator of the Legal Division of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) detailed the pattern of this illegal mining operation, not just unlicensed mining, there are also those that are actually licensed but are categorized as illegal.

The pattern of illegal mining operations, said Jamil, is what is commonly known in East Kalimantan as ‘corridor’ mining. This type of mine is known to operate in areas that are squeezed by two permits. “The distance can be several meters to hundreds of meters,” Jamil said last year.

Mareta gave an example, the corridor mine took place in Sumber Sari Village, Loa Kulu District, Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. The mine, he said, was between the two concession permits of PT MHU and PT MPP.

Another form, mining exploitation in legal mining, but by people who do not have official mining permit documents. Models like this, he said, often occur in various regions, starting from North Kolaka, Southeast Sulawesi, East Kalimantan and North Kalimantan. “They barged in on the owner of the mining permit.”

Another pattern, he said, is illegal mining by licensed mines. “Operating in areas that are actually prohibited by law,” he said, while giving an example, mining outside the permit by crossing the concession boundary.

“For example, their permit is 1,000 hectares but mining outside is not given a permit.”

He also mentioned the pattern of open pit mining in protected forest areas. Areas that require underground mining are actually illegal. Also, when mining in a production forest area can be converted without a lease-to-use permit, the forest area is also included in the illegal category. In addition, he said, mining in disaster-prone areas.

“Even if possible there should be a disaster study,” said Jamil. Wadas, for example, wants to have a mine for Bener Dam materials, but has no studies.

Likewise the fate of several small islands which are explicitly mentioned in the Coastal and Small Island Law, regarding the prohibition of mineral mining under an area of ​​2,000 square kilometers. “Many mines (operate) [on the island] under 2,000 km,” he said.

This illegal mining, he said, definitely does not have environmental documents and does not set environmental rules.

In his opinion, illegal mining causes environmental and social damage. “In mining areas there are always conflicts, new types of money. Money dust money noise. The names of the rivers have also changed.”

Jamil regrets that the attitude of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has so far only taken action against illegal mining in forest areas. “It was a serious insult to the victim’s community.”

In fact, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has the authority to enforce both administrative and criminal law against destructive mining, including mining without a permit.

Lure – lure

Illegal mining actors often use the excuse of empowering citizens. In 2019, illegal mining in Marang Kayu District, Kutai Kartanegara, was rife. One way miners minimize protests is by involving local residents to become part of the illegal mining activity.

Mareta called this a trap. During difficult times during the pandemic, said Eta, residents experiencing economic difficulties – having difficulty finding work – eventually fell into the trap of illegal mining.

“They become workers in it and even become part of it. For example, renting a vehicle for mining. Or become a daily worker guarding the crossings,” said Mareta.

Most likely, he said, the community did not know that mining was illegal. The government also neglected to inform earlier if there were illegal activities that the public should avoid.

Romiansyah, a resident of Santan, Marang Kayu, said that coal mining in the upstream of Marang Kayu District, Kutai Kartanegara, which borders Bontang City, has been going on for a long time.

Licensed companies operating in Santan include PT Indominco Mandiri, PT Mahakam Sumber Jaya, PT Santan Bara. The mining economy doesn’t help the people much.

While coastal villages rely on an economy that depends on coconut which is now considered to be fading. Allegedly because part of the impact of coal mining activities in the upstream which causes flooding of coastal areas.

Romiansyah assessed that the economy of a large mine does not have a broad impact on residents. “Local people are rarely able to enter big companies, in the end, illegal mining is like a savior for young people,” he said.

Ismail Bolong saw this gap. He understands how to use local residents to work in illegal mines. Residents as traffic controllers at coal trucking crossings.

He also empowered residents to participate in the coal business through transportation services. Romiansyah said, in Marang Kayu, residents’ houses that are passed by the transport trucks and near  the stockpile ( coal stockpile ) also receive monthly payments from this illegal business of IDR 500,000 every month. This stock k pile enters the neighboring sub-district, Muara Badak. “They call it dust money,” he said.

Actually, said Romiansyah, illegal mining in Marang Kayu had been going on for a long time even before 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, illegal mining was actually rife.

“Crazy during COVID,” he said.

During the exploitation, he said, up to hundreds of trucks queued up near the port. They work 24 hours. Coal from Santan Ulu is transported by truck across the road in front of the district office and market to the port.

Not all residents are happy with the presence of this illegal mine. Some residents protested that the use of the road that was crossed by the coal transport truck was as if the market had been disrupted, the residents staged a protest.

The Marang Kayu people have the mention of special places related to illegal mining, one of the silkar . Silkar , said Romiansyah, is the name of an area that illegal coal mining has demolished. He also said that the Ismail Bolong mine was operating in this area.

The lane before the illegal mining was deserted, now there are many houses, workshops and long stalls.

The illegal mine in Santan Ulu Marang Kayu has now stopped operating since the Ismail Bolong case came out to the public. Although there are still piles of coal.

The president has to step in

Fathul Huda, Director of the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) Samarinda, said that the handling of the illegal mining scandal involving the police, Ismail Bolong, was not transparent. Even though Ismail Bolong has been named a suspect, he suspects that the police “locked each other” because the question of alleged bribery did not appear again. That sounds, only with its illegal mines.

In fact, Ismail Bolong once mentioned that he had deposited coordination money with a high-ranking National Police. Although he later denied that the statement at the beginning was not true.

Muhammad Isnur, Head of YLBHI, said that the law and aspects of protecting the environment didn’t work, mainly because of the police. “That’s the first fact that must be uncovered.”

Isnur said the results of research in Papua show the involvement of police, military and intelligence officers in company commissioners. “It is clear that the oligarchic relations are all connected ,” Isnur said in a press statement last November.

Fathul said the president could form a Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF) regarding the illegal coal mining scandal that is getting crazier in Kalimantan.

The rise of illegal coal mining involving police officers such as Ismail Bolong as coal collectors, he thinks, is an indication of weak internal control within the police. Although Ismail Bolong has been declared no longer active at the Bayangkara institution since July 2022.

“Internal supervision in the police needs to be strengthened apart from Kompolnas.”

In addition, said Fathul, the monitoring system at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (KESDM) is also weak. He gave an example, the position of mine inspector specifically supervises mines in the region. When the supervisory authority is transferred to the central government, it seems that the regional government does not want to know and throws responsibility away.

“It’s as if the people in this area do n’t want to know . Feeling of no authority. In the end they said it was the authority of the center.”

For this reason, the law enforcement division needs to exist at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources as well, not only at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. KESDM, said Fathul, specifically handles mineral and coal and the system must be regulated. “Don’t have conflict of interest in Gakum.”

Currently, mine inspectors are no longer effective because there are only 12 supervisors with 1,400 IUP coal mines in East Kalimantan. With a mine area of ​​5.2 million hectares, he said, it would be impossible to supervise properly.

“Moreover, with many illegal mines. The surveillance system is certainly paralyzed.”

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