EARTH Thailand

Critics step up mining bill fight

Bangkok Post 12 December 2016 | Apinya Wipatayotin 

New legislation 'will destroy' communities

A network protesting against mining activities vowed Sunday to use every tactic at its disposal to overturn the National Legislative Assembly-approved mining law, saying it would destroy community rights.

The revised version of the law aims to replace the outdated 1966 Mineral Royalty Rates Act and the 1967 Mining Act.

They say the new law makes it easier for investors to get a licence to mine in environmentally sensitive areas.

Residents are furious with the law as it "lacks public participation, transparency and good governance to protect community rights", said Ekkachai Isararat, a key leader of Kao Kuha Community Right Protection Association in Songkla, which is an ally of the People's Network Who Own Mining Resources in Thailand (PNOMR).

He said locals are ready to express their stance against the law.

"We will use all means to stop the law that is designed to favour mining investors. We will closely monitor it and prepare to deal with the matter step by step," he told a seminar organised by the PNOMR.

According to Enlaw (Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants), the law has not yet come into effect as it still requires an organic law to underpin it. The local network hopes to head it off at this point.

The NLA, on Dec 8, passed the mining bill amid strong concerns from activists who said many articles of the bill carried a message that could damage local communities affected by mining activities, and created a "friendly atmosphere" for mining investors.

Lertsak Kamkongsak, coordinator of the PNOMR, said the law will destroy local communities.

Section 132 indicated the Department of Primary Industries and Mines can itself conduct environment impact assessments (EIAs) to the potential mining area before granting the mining concession right to the company, he said.

He fears what would happen if he EIA study was not done correctly, or done in line with technology or technique favoured by the applicant. "It is ridiculous the state agency will conduct EIAs, instead of a private company," he said. He added the new law waives the need for any mining plant to obtain metallurgy licences if the firm is in a mining concession zone, which means the law has offered an opportunity for them to continue their operations as there is no need to get a metallurgy licence.

Anand Wilairith, of the Noen Maprang Environment Protection Group in Phitsanulok province, said his community had been suffering the effects of gold mining activities for more than a decade. He said the law will increase mining activities nationwide as it is aimed at enabling the business sector.

The law isn't designed for sustainable development, he said, adding it will only speed up a process to harm the environment and natural resources, including the locals' standard of living.

Conflicts between locals and investors will be immense as the law doesn't provide rights to protect their communities, he said.

Ranong Kongsane, of the RAK Ban Kerd Group in Loei province, said locals who fought against a gold mining company there filed legal action in more than 10 cases. They were prepared to take their fight to the new law as they don't want to see the community collapse.