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Let’s be clear. The recent court decision that found the Central and Greater Jakarta governments guilty of not doing enough to protect the people from life-threatening air pollution is not an embarrassing defeat that merits an appeal to the higher court.
That the Central Jakarta District Court ruled in favor of 32 residents of Greater Jakarta grouped under the Capital City Coalition simply shows the undeniable fact that nearly 30 million people living in Jakarta and its satellites have the right to clean and healthy air. Based on the World Health Organization guideline, the polluted air they breathe every day might reduce their life expectancy by 5 to 5.5 years.
Studies have shown the danger that pollutant particles pose to our health. In the end, ailments and deaths stemming from those toxins go against the government’s pursuit of quality human resources the country needs to achieve high-income status.
For sure, the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit two years ago in good faith, without any intention to discredit the government. The petitioners in fact took action – and took the risks – on behalf of the silent majority who shared the same cause but lacked the guts, time and energy to fight for their basic right.
If necessary, the court decision could trigger citizens elsewhere in the country to make the government hear their grievances over environmental degradation resulting from policies that harm nature or simply governments’ ignorance as in the recent court battle over air pollution.
In their decision, the bench ordered the President, the environment minister, the home minister, the heath minister and the governors of Jakarta, West Java and Banten to do what it took to improve air quality, control transboundary pollution in Greater Jakarta and conduct research on the health impacts of air pollution. As representatives of the state, the central and provincial governments are responsible for the safety of citizens, including from environmental hazards such as air pollution.
No doubt the government, both at the national and subnational levels, has taken various measures to prevent air pollution, but as the petitioners found, the actions were far from enough. There are also many examples of policy inconsistencies with regard to maintaining healthy and clean air on the part of the government, such as the incentive for people to buy cars.
In Jakarta as in other big cities across the world, emissions from combustion vehicles are the main culprit of air pollution. Nearly 11 million people inhabiting the capital are accustomed to watching smog blanket the city’s high rises, with an exception when Jakarta was put under strict mobility curbs to contain the spread of COVID-19 last year.
Instead of challenging the court’s decision, which is legitimate in the country’s justice system, the government should comply with the ruling, just to prove it is serving and listening to its people. It is safe to say that the level of air pollution in Greater Jakarta is critical and therefore needs an immediate response.
Through pro-environment policies, the government can become a game-changer in the fight against air pollution.
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