Despite opposition from local officials and the absence of a required environmental impact assessment, a coal company was granted a permit to mine in Indonesian Borneo’s Central Hulu Sungai district.The local Dayak people have vowed to fight the mine, and an environmental NGO is suing the central government for issuing the permit.The permit was issued after changes to the law — said to simplify the process of issuing permits — allowed mining firm PT MCM to sidestep local officials. BATUTANGGA, Indonesia — Stretching across the slopes of the Meratus mountains, where the indigenous Dayak people strip rubber and harvest mountain rice, Central Hulu Sungai is the last district in Indonesia’s South Kalimantan province free of mining and palm oil. Locals in this remote part of Indonesian Borneo say protecting their land has tested their stamina, and they’re worried they may no longer be able to hold out against a new threat. In Indonesia, local governments retain broad rights to decide the fate of their land, and the struggle to curb questionable land deals often pits regulatory agencies in Jakarta against lax enforcement by provincial officials. But here in the forested slopes of Batutangga, a collection of villages islanded by karst towers, local people have found the opposite. In December 2017, despite the objections of local officials, the central government issued a mining permit to PT Mantimin Coal Mining (MCM), a nebulous coal company that has been trying and failing to obtain the required environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a decade. Locals quickly organized protests, and the environmental NGO Walhi in late February sued the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources for allowing Batutangga to be mined. Indonesia’s environmental laws require mining companies to present an EIA before they can be considered for a permit. Walhi argues in the lawsuit that the ministry not only ignored the legal process to grant a permit but also the concerns of residents. Any EIA, they maintain, would be illegal because it would not have the approval of the district. Additionally, roughly 100 hectares (247 acres) of the 1,964-hectare (4,853-acre) Batutangga concession area overlaps with protected forests. “Not only should the laws be considered, but also that the community has been fighting against it from the beginning,” said Kisworo Dwi Cahyono, director of Walhi in South Kalimantan. Bambang Gatot Ariyono, director general of minerals and coal at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, who signed the permit in December, refused to answer questions about the lawsuit, saying they would be answered later in court. Women in Nateh, one of several villages in the concession area, where 8,000 people live. Photo by Ian Morse for Mongabay. A “ghost company” Aribani, the head of the Nateh village council, said he learned about the permit in February, two months after it was signed. Before then, he believed mining would never enter these mountains. He laughed when asked whether he was involved in the permit process at all. Aribani is not alone. In addition to the 8,000 residents in the concession area, provincial officials were also surprised the permit was granted to PT MCM. According to residents and government officials, the company has never been to South Kalimantan, despite seeking support for a permit since 2008. Gunawan Harjito, head of minerals and coal in the province’s Department of Energy and Mineral Resources, said he had never met the company and didn’t know how to get in contact with them. “But if it is mining they are doing in our region, the owners need to come visit,” Gunawan said, confirming his support for the lawsuit against his department’s national equivalent. Bambang, too, said he had never met with any employee or representative of the company. The company was not required to meet with officials in order to obtain a permit, he said. He said he knew only that the owner of PT MCM was from India. A few locals called PT MCM a “ghost company.” Aribani, head of Nateh’s village council, stands against a backdrop of karst towers at the base of the Meratus mountains. Photo by Ian Morse for Mongabay. According to government documents obtained by Mongabay, PT MCM has been listed as a mining company since 1993. After the firm received a permit to begin exploration in 2008, its Indonesian owners sold most of their shares to an Indian company, PT Bangun Asia Persada (BAP), an investment holding company owned by Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services in Mumbai. It is IL&FS’s only holding in Indonesia. IL&FS did not respond to repeated requests for comments, nor did Amit Ganguly, the current president of both PT MCM and PT BAP. When contacted by telephone, a representative of PT MCM directed communications to email, which have not been answered. Since 2010, PT MCM has changed executives nine times, apparently without having an operating coal mine. The latest government documents show that as of September 2017, South Kalimantan mining giant Hasnur Group held a 5 percent stake; when contacted in March, an operator at the Hasnur Group office said the company had divested completely.