Train station vendors in Indonesia sue ministers, President

A train passes through a crowded railway system in Jakarta.

More than 2,000 vendors who were evicted from 16 train stations across Greater Jakarta filed a class-action lawsuit on Wednesday against state railway operator PT KAI, Transportation Minister EE Mangindaan, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and demanded them to pay Rp 141.5 billion (S$15.4 million) in compensation.

KAI attempted to improve its services last year by removing all vendors from stations in Greater Jakarta to widen areas for passengers and provide more parking space as part of its efforts to fulfil a target of 1.2 million passengers in 2018.

According to the vendors' lawyer, Muhammad Isnun, KAI had violated the Human Rights Law by unilaterally evicting the vendors.

"The Human Rights Law clearly states that negotiations must be conducted before an eviction. The vendors legally occupied the stations and paid rent. KAI should have negotiated with the vendors beforehand," Isnun said after filing the lawsuit on Wednesday.

Moreover, Isnun, who is from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH), said that Mangindaan, Dahlan and Yudhoyono had failed to protect their citizens' rights as they had the capacity to stop the eviction and protect the vendors, who are citizens of the country.

"Most of the vendors now are jobless. Some are even homeless. This would not have happened if the president and ministers took action against the eviction," said Isnun.

The former vendor coordinator at Kranji Station in Bekasi, Johannes Hutasoit, said that many vendors were now suffering due to the eviction. "We have lost our main source of income and we can barely feed our families. It's heartbreaking to see that many of my friends have become jobless and homeless," Johannes said.

He said that if the vendors were not allowed to return to the station, KAI and the government should at least provide compensation for the material loss that the vendors had suffered.

Meanwhile, KAI Operations Region (Daop) I Greater Jakarta spokesman Agus Komarudin said that the firm had not been informed of the lawsuit. However, he said that KAI was not responsible for compensation or relocation for the vendors.

"KAI is not responsible for providing compensation for the former vendors. For example, if we rented our house to someone, are we responsible for giving them another place to live when the contract expires?" Agus said on Wednesday.

He also questioned the lawsuit because the eviction, he said, was not against the law.

Earlier last month, the vendors sent a subpoena to KAI demanding the firm pay compensation and allow them to return to the stations. The vendors had threatened to file a civil suit if the firm did not fulfil their demands.

"We had already given KAI a chance to make peace, but they did not respond. Therefore, the vendors decided to file a lawsuit," Isnun said.