EARTH Thailand

Villagers win pollution case

Bangkok Post 04 March 2009 | APINYA WIPATAYOTIN  

The Administrative Court has ruled in favour of villagers in Rayong province, ordering the National Environment Board to declare the area near Map Ta Phut industrial estate a pollution control zone.

Twenty-seven villagers from 11 communities around the industrial estate in Muang district filed the case in October 2007, accusing the NEB of negligence for failing to designate the area as a pollution control zone.

The board was then chaired by Kosit Panpiemras, a former deputy prime minister and industry minister.

Based on accounts from state agencies, the court decided the residents of four tambons were at risk of harm caused by pollution from the nearby petrochemical plants, said Surachai Trong-ngam, a lawyer with the non-profit legal group, Enlaw, which represents the villagers.

The court also cited the Pollution Control Department's study on carcinogenic "volatile organic compounds" which exceed safety levels and the National Cancer Institute's statistics showing the number of cancer patients in Rayong is three times that of other provinces.

"The court, therefore, orders the NEB to declare the area a pollution control zone within 60 days from the verdict," Mr Surachai quoted the court as saying yesterday.

The designated areas are tambons Map Ta Put, Nern Pra, Map Kha and Tap Ma in Muang district.

Under the 1992 Environmental Promotion and Protection Act, if an area is designated a pollution control zone, state agencies and all parties involved must act urgently to control and mitigate the impact of the pollution.

The court verdict was seen as a huge success for the villagers who have been calling on the government to declare their communities a pollution control area.

They believed the state refused to impose tougher environmental protection regulations for fear of hurting the investment climate.

Sutthi Atchasai, leader of a local conservation group, said he was happy with the court verdict. The villagers also planned to meet Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who chairs the NEB, to ask him not to appeal the court ruling and to announce the pollution control zone as a matter of urgency.

Saksit Tridech, permanent secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said he had instructed environmental officials to prepare information for the NEB, which was set to consider the pollution control zone declaration next month.