President Joko Widodo has ordered strict legal actions against individuals and companies responsible for forest fires that have caused a dangerous haze in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatera, West, and Central Kalimantan - Photo by President Office.

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered strict legal actions against individuals and companies responsible for forest fires that have caused a dangerous haze in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatera, West, and Central Kalimantan. The government has named local plantation firm PT Sampoerna Agro Tbk (IDX: SGRO), also three Malaysian companies Sime Darby Bhd, IOI Corp., Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, and TDM Bhd as the suspects.

“Therefore, I invite all people not to burn the land, both forests, and peat. Including what I have not said, including strict legal efforts we have done both individuals, corporations and there have all been firm actions there,” said Widodo, who held a limited Cabinet meeting in Pekanbaru in Riau, one of the worst affected areas, late on Monday (09/16) to review steps to fight the fires, as report by secretary cabinet.

At the same time, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Wiranto ensured that he would carry out Widodo’s orders, including dismissing elements of the military and police who could not handle the disaster.

Wiranto claimed that a number of regional police chiefs whose territory was hit by forest and land fire had stated that they were ready to be fired or removed from their current positions if they could not fulfill their duties related to the forest fires.

Meanwhile, the number of suspected individuals and companies related to forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan has increased. To date, the police have set 218 people and 5 companies as suspects. That number increased from a total of 185 individual and four companies as suspects on Monday.

“There have been 218 individual suspects, already established, and five corporations,” said police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo in Jakarta today (09/17) while detailing, there were 47 suspects set by the Riau Police.

Riau Police also set PT Sumber Sawit Sejahtera as a suspect. While the South Sumatra Regional Police determined 27 individual suspects and one corporation.

“Adding one corporation from the South Sumatra Regional Police, the initials will be conveyed later,” Prasetyo adds.

Then, as many as 14 suspects related to forest and land fire in Jambi, and 4 suspects in South Kalimantan. In Central Kalimantan, the local police determined 65 people and PT Palmindo Gemilang Kencana as suspects.

Finally, as many as 61 suspects and two corporations became suspects in West Kalimantan. Two companies that have been named suspects in West Kalimantan are PT SISU and PT SAP, he said, adding that currently, the police and the army, the National Disaster Management Agency and local governments are trying to deal with forest and land fires.

“Then law enforcement is the final step in the goal of mitigating the perpetrators of groups or individuals not to repeat their actions,” he ended.

The President directed the disaster mitigation agency to expand the scope of artificial rain and add more troops and firefighters.

Stinging smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations has covered western and central regions of Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, with thousands of people reporting the acute respiratory illness.

The raging hot spots have revived fears of a repeat of 2015, when a total of 2.6 million hectares of land was affected, costing Indonesia Rp221 trillion (US$21.61 billion) in economic losses.

The total number of hot spots in Indonesia rose to 2,984 on Tuesday from 2,583 on Monday, with the Indonesian part of the Borneo island accounting for almost 1,000 fires.

The hot spots have affected 328,724 hectares of forest and farmland this year, data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency shows.

The weather is forecast to remain dry in the southern Asean region and the prevailing winds are expected to continue blowing from the south-east or south-west in the next few days.

Hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan are expected to persist with the dry weather, while hazy conditions in the region look set to remain, the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre said in a statement.

The Malaysian state of Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur, closed 145 schools on Tuesday, affecting 187,928 students when air pollution reached “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” ranges, according to a statement from the state’s education department.

On Sunday, schools in Pekanbaru, the main city in Riau, were ordered to be closed through Tuesday as a thick smog cover engulfed the city, Tempo reported.

Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Hanoi, and Jakarta were among the world’s top cities with the poorest air quality, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data.

The air quality index in Kuching in haze-hit Sarawak state was 220 on Tuesday, a level deemed very unhealthily, while it was at 157 in Kuala Lumpur, an unhealthy level for sensitive groups.

The haze blanketing western parts of Indonesia continues to cause air traffic disruptions. Lion Air on Monday diverted all flights to and from Samarinda airport in East Kalimantan to Balikpapan as the haze reduced visibility, the Indonesian carrier said in an emailed statement.

A total of 11 airports were affected on Monday with 10 flights canceled and 50 flights delayed and few others diverted, according to Airnav. PT Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, said it will cancel 15 flights through Sept. 19.

Indonesia opened temporary clinics to treat thousands of people suffering from acute respiratory illness in the haze struck regions. Authorities distributed masks to people in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, and Kalimantan. More than 9,000 personnel drawn from the military, police, and disaster mitigation agency with the help of 42 helicopters are involved in fighting the fire, official data showed Monday.

Malaysia plans to carry out cloud seeding in the worst affected regions, the Star newspaper reported Sunday. The air quality in Singapore, which slipped to unhealthy levels on Saturday, is forecast to improve, according to the National Environment Agency.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexy@theinsiderstories.com