Jakarta, Sep 22 (IANS) The Indonesian government has taken legal action against four companies over raging forest fires that have led to a haze across the region and ordered them to stop operation, an official said on Tuesday.

Operational permits of three firms have been suspended and another company’s licence has been revoked, Secretary General of Environment and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono said.

“We give strong punishment in the form of freezing (and revoking) of licences with the stoppage of firms’ operation,” Xinhua news agency quoted Bambang as saying.

“The firms must return their plantation area to the state… and state has been committed to preserve environment,” he added.

The illegal fires across Indonesian provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan have resulted in a smoky haze enveloping Singapore and Malaysia, disturbing flights and causing health problems.

The thick haze has led to 75,196 people suffering from respiratory complications, according to the national disaster management agency. The health ministry has revealed that some of the affected people were diagnosed with pneumonia.

According to the police, as many as 28 companies and 145 people have been declared suspects in the illegal fire in Sumatra and Borneo islands.

Indonesia has been witnessing such illegal forest fires since the 1990s, and the ensuing haze envelopes neighbouring Asean countries and causes massive economic loss.

The forest fires are caused mainly by slash and burn techniques adopted by farmers in Indonesia. Slash and burn has been extensively used for many years as the cheapest and easiest means to clear the lands for traditional agriculture. Fire is also used during the long fallow rotation of the so-called jungle rubber in Sumatra and Kalimantan to remove most of the biomass, including the woody parts before new plantations are re-established.