Court ruling halts mining project in North Sumatra

An administrative court in Jakarta has ruled in favor of local community representatives who are challenging the environmental permit for a controversial mining project in North Sumatra.

An administrative court in Jakarta has ruled in favor of local community representatives who are challenging the environmental permit for a controversial mining project in North Sumatra. Given the vulnerability of the area, which is one of the most active earthquake zones in the world, and the risk involved in the project, including plans to build a toxic mineral waste storage facility on-site, the panel of judges found that issuing a permit for the project violated government regulations. 

The defendants, including the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the mining operator PT. Dairi Prima Mineral (DPM), a subsidiary of the state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd (NFC), have appealed the decision, so it is not yet final and binding. But the fact is that the court has acknowledged that the company’s latest construction plans—including plans for infrastructure critical to processing ore at the site—violate government regulations regarding public consultation and environmental safety. 

Inclusive Development International has worked with Indonesian partners BAKUMSU, the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), and Yayasan Diakonia Pelangi Kasih (YDPK) for several years supporting local community representatives who oppose the DPM project, which poses potentially catastrophic safety and environmental risks. Among other things, a proposed tailings dam that would store toxic waste from mining activities at the site is “almost certain” to fail, according to a civil engineer and mine safety expert who assessed the project plans. 

International experts provided testimony to the court that the mine does not meet international safety standards or comply with Indonesian regulations. They have also stated that it would be illegal for NFC or its subsidiaries to build a mine like this within China itself because of the risk it would pose to human life. Ultimately, the court ruled that DPM failed to consider credible safety and environmental concerns and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry failed to follow their mandate when, under these conditions and in the face of opposition by local communities, they provided environmental approval for the mine.  

The implications of the decision extend well beyond this individual case. If the verdict is ultimately upheld, it suggests that mining companies operating in Indonesia—increasingly a center of mining for critical minerals needed to power a global green energy transition—will be held to higher standards.

More information on the safety and environmental risks, as well as local communities’ opposition to the mine can be found here:

The court verdict can be found online here: (enter case number 59/G/LH/2023/PTUN.JKT)

A press release from BAKUMSU, which is serving as legal representation to the communities in this case, is available here: 

BAKUMSU’s release includes the following quotes from representatives from the community and NGOs, as well as international experts who provided testimony to the court in this case:

  • Ms. Rainim Purba, community representative from Dairi said: “I and others in the community are glad the court in Jakarta agrees the mining company and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry were doing a great injustice to us, and the environment. The mine is obviously going to result in a disaster. The Ministry had provided approval regardless of this. Now the court must make sure the government withdraws the approval”.
  • BAKUMSU director, Mr. Tongam Panggabean, said “we have had world class engineering and environmental experts testifying since 2019 that the proposed mine would be a safety and environmental hazard. The expert reports have been provided to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Yet the Ministry approved the mine. Communities protested and did petitions. Still the Ministry approved the mine. It was outrageous. Now it is good to see the Administrative Court rights this wrong.” He added: “This is a big win for the community”.
  • In a 2021 presentation, which was shared with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, an international expert on mine hydrology, Dr Steven Emerman of Malach Consulting concluded: “I am often asked what is the worst mining project that I have ever reviewed. …. I can say with confidence that I have never reviewed a proposed mining project that shows such callous disregard for human life as the proposed DPM mine.”  (See
  • Richard Meehan, an international expert on dam construction in earthquake prone areas, reported in 2020, 2021 and 2022 that the whole valley where a tailings storage facility was proposed to be constructed was filled with unstable volcanic ash. The area is also in one of the highest earthquake risk zones in the world – and also experiences serious storms and floods. He predicted that there would likely be a dam failure, possibly a catastrophic failure, where well over a million tons of toxic tailings would charge down the valley over villages. (See
  • Ms. Saudur Sitorus, a community representative from Dairi, said: “We have been doing very productive agriculture in the area for decades. We have been contributing to the provincial and national economy.  We want the government to support us, not allow the destruction of our lands and streams. We want no mining in our area. Never. We want to continue our agriculture.” 
  • Mr. Mangatur Lumbantoruan, another community representative from Dairi, said: “I thank the court for finding the Environmental Approval was invalid. That is correct. Now we don’t want the Ministry or the company to appeal that decision. We want no further consideration of mining in our valley”.  
  • Mr. Melky Nahar, National Coordinator of community mining network, JATAM, said: “There was also the issue of complying with Indonesian laws and regulations. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry approved a mine tailings dam without obtaining recommendation or review from the Public Works Ministry as required by PUPR Minister Regulation number 27/PRT/M/2015”.  
    He added “There is a requirement to consider the impacts of a possible tailings dam failure. DPM repeatedly failed to consider such impacts and failed to design their dam to an acceptable and legal standard”. 
    And: “The technical experts advised the court that the whole area was geologically unstable, with no site suitable for any tailings dam. The Ministry should therefore just cease considering any mining proposal for that area. The current court decision should not be appealed and DPM should not be allowed to start”. 
  • Mr. Panggabean from BAKUMSU believes the case is a pivotal one for Indonesian: “A country that has an Environment Ministry that approves dangerous mines is not what anyone in the country needs”, he said. “With the court confirming that proper process had not been followed, and that the DPM mine poses a demonstrable risk, it is a precedent that should be followed in the future. The Ministry should accept and not appeal this court decision.” 
    Mr. Panggabean also added: “The world is shifting over to net-zero carbon emissions. Renewable     electricity and batteries will replace fossil fuel use. In this situation, the Indonesian government wants the country to be a hub for mining of critical minerals and production of rechargeable batteries. However, Indonesia can only claim it is a responsible mining state by excluding irresponsible mining projects.” 

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