Gathering information from a quarrying site C in Pemepek Village, Pringgarata District of Central Lombok was difficult. It had taken Kamal*, a local from a nearby village, two visits down to the site before he could get anything meaningful.

Both of his visits took place in November 2019. During the first instance, Kamal was met by a group of local men, who were suspicious of Kamal and his intent.

“I chose to go away because I was honestly intimidated,” he said.

He came back several days later – this time with a friend, a resident of Pemepek. To gain access, Kamal posed as an investor who had sought to purchase a site. The plan worked; Kamal was introduced to several brokers and he was able to learn important information about the mining site, including its owners and permit status.

“There were many sites that had no sign,” said Kamal.

It has been two years since Kamal and Solidaritas Masyarakat untuk Transparansi Nusa Tenggara Barat (Somasi NTB) started to become vocal about mining activities in several areas of the West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province. According to the 2018 data of the Energy and Mineral Resources Agency of NTB, there were 261 valid mining permits in the province – 27 were issued for metal and mineral mining and the rest were for rock quarrying. By area size, all the sites combined covered 190 thousand hectares. That was 10 percent of NTB’s total area.

Somasi NTB focused its advocacy work in two areas, which consisted of 22 sites, and engaged seven locals to carry out site monitoring from November 2019 to February 2020.

The first area was artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites in Sekotong, which were rampant between 2008 and 2010. Dwi Arie Santo, a Coordinator of the Workers Committee in Somasi NTB, believed it was Law 4/2009 – which devolved licensing authority to the regency/municipality government – that caused a wildfire of mining activities in the area. Now, the mining craze in Sekotong has been tempered, although they do not completely stop.

The quarrying site C in Pemepek was the second area. Around the village, illegal quarrying activities to extract sand, rocks, and gravels took place pervasively. NTB Provincial Police has named several suspects of illegal mining, yet it hardly created a dent.

These situations made Kamal, together with Somasi NTB, resolve to demand the government’s transparency and disclosure of mining data.

But keeping an eye on mining activities was not an easy task. Dwi Arie said the mining sites had become a source of livelihood for locals. It was in their interest to keep the sites in operation – hence their watchful guard towards anyone entering the area.

Dwi and his colleagues had to come up with different strategies to get past the locals: other than pretending to purchase a site, they purportedly surveyed the area for an off-road race event, and even claimed to be lost. “One time, I said I was a student working on my thesis,” Dwi said. On site, he documented the site situation under the pretence of making a phone call.

As if information gathering was not hard enough, organizations like Somasi NTB also had to deal with threats and intimidation. In January 2019, an unidentified arsonist burned the house of Murdani, the executive director of Walhi NTB, an environmental NGO. Fear rippled through the community, Dwi said, especially since the motive of the arson was linked to Walhi’s criticisms towards illegal mining practices in Lombok. Locals, who had been helping Somasi NTB, were questioned by their neighbours who were associated with mine owners.

“They were scared,” Dwi said.

Despite the economic benefits, improper mining activities pose a real danger to the environment – and with a much higher cost. In Pemepek, for instance, the villagers staged a protest during the second week of September about the clean water crisis.

There had never been water problems in Pemepek, Dwi explained, until one day locals noticed their once clear river turned murky and brown. There were also road accidents because of the traveling of sand trucks.

Following up its monitoring results, Somasi NTB held a series of meetings from December 2019 to January 2020 to help the locals draft a report. Dwi said they had wanted to get the report well-structured before being submitted to the local government.

After the report was ready, however, none of the locals dared to do it. Jamaluddin, a staff member of Somasi NTB took up the role. On behalf of the residents in Cendi Manik Village, Sekotong, he made a report using NTB Care platform – an app designed to receive public complaints in NTB.

The report highlighted four issues. First, landslide hazards of mining sites that are putting the locals in harms’ way, endangering agricultural fields, and potentially contaminating water resources. Second, the demand to put up signs around sites that declare mining ownership, operating license, and operational period. Third, the need for community engagement in mining monitoring. Fourth, the lack of information transparency on the regional government’s website despite the mandate in Law on Public Information Disclosure.

Dwi said the government responded and the administrator of NTB Care thanked them for the report. However, Dwi wasn’t satisfied. “They should also elaborate on the points we conveyed,” he said.

*The source’s real name has been changed to protect confidentiality.