EARTH Thailand

Court rules to halt industrial projects

Bangkok Post 30 September 2009

Pollution in some areas takes turn for the worse
The Administrative Court has issued an injunction suspending the operating permits of 76 industrial projects - including many at Rayong's Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate - which have been granted government approval.

The injunction serves to prevent all operations or activities by the projects pending an Administrative Court hearing into whether the recent approvals are in breach of the constitution.

The move follows a drawn-out battle between environmental activists and project companies.

The court cited the National Environment Board decision to declare three districts in Rayong a pollution control zone, saying pollution problems at Map Ta Phut and elsewhere had worsened.

"There are grounds to the petition and there is enough reason to warrant an injunction to protect the plaintiffs from further damage," the court said.

The suspension of operating permits followed an application by a coalition of environmental and community activists who claimed the permits violated Article 67 of the constitution.

The article states a project seen as harmful to the environment and people's health must be subject to public hearings before it could be endorsed.

The provision requires the government to set up an independent agency to give advice on the implementation of projects that could be harmful to people's health and the environment.

The body is to be made up of representatives of environmental and health groups, with health and environmental studies undertaken by institutes of higher education.

In the absence of the body, the Council of State has ruled that authorities could process project applications during the absence of the organic law to set up the body.

Environmentalists and activists forming the Stop Global Warming Association were appalled by the ruling and asked the court to intervene. They have accused the National Environment Board, the secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, the natural resources and environment minister, the industry minister, the energy minister, the transport minister, the public health minister and the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) of issuing unlawful orders and of negligence of duty.

Article 67 of the constitution guarantees the people's right to live in a healthy environment and the right to take part in the government's and community's protection of natural resources and the environment. The court ruled these rights must be recognised with immediate effect.

The government and relevant authorities are obliged to fully comply with this provision before it can issue a permit for projects, the court ruled.

The injunction was hailed by activists while investors reacted with caution.

"I am happy with the court's ruling," said Suthi Atchasai, a leader of the People's Eastern Network.

"We are also planning to seek the court's decision to terminate the Industry Ministry's harmful industry list, recently announced as we think the list was drawn up without any solid research back up."

IEAT chairman Prasan Tanprasert said the agency would petition the court within 30 days. He said the IEAT was acting in accordance with the Council of State's advice. "The ruling will definitely have a negative impact on the investment environment and the stalemate needs to be solved soon," he said.

Thai Industries Federation chairman Santi Vilassakdanont said investors would be more cautious, both on existing projects and with new investments.

"The ruling paints an unclear picture of investment regulations and the government needs to act swiftly to end this impasse, or else future investment will be delayed or relocated to other countries," Mr Santi said.