EARTH Thailand

Critics slam NCPO order suspending city planning

The Nation 30 October 2017 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

ACADEMICS AND residents in the Eastern region have slammed a special order issued during the Royal Cremation Ceremony, which revoked city planning in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), as inappropriate during the mourning period and harming public participation.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) last Wednesday issued Order 47/2560 revoking Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao plans and ordering the Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department to draft new city plans in line with EEC development.

The new NCPO order has sparked heavy criticism, as Surachai Trongngam, secretary-general of the Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants (EnLAW) Foundation, said it caused two big problems because it ignored the Constitution on environmental protections and the public participation of residents affected by development.

Surachai said the order showed the junta was trying to force the EEC forward without regard to the current Constitution and rule of law, since the special powers of Article 44 of the interim charter had already been invoked three times regarding EEC development.

“The latest order abolishes the city plans for three provinces in EEC development zone and orders the Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department to produce city plans that [advance] EEC development. Cabinet-approved plans for the EEC will be used as city planning guidelines while the new plans are being drafted,” he said.

“The exercise of power like this not only neglects public participation in planning development in [residents’] localities to suit natural resources and local demand, but it is also ignores the government’s duty, enforced by the current Constitution, that it must consult with local people before conducting projects that will affect people and the environment.”

He added that the rush in the EEC development would harm the public’s trust in the government and more industry in the region would only worsen the situation since industrial development would cause severe environmental impacts.

‘Lack of good governance’

He gave as an example Map Taphut Industrial Estate, which has been declared as a pollution-control area by the Supreme Administrative Court, while Rayong residents were still suffering from pollution.

Silpakorn University lecturer Somnuck Jongmeewasin said the timing of the NCPO order was totally inappropriate, as the country was still mourning the departure of HM the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Royal Cremation Ceremony was ongoing.

“This action by the NCPO opposed the Thai people’s feelings. By this order, the junta did not consider people’s involvement and existing laws. They just want to push the EEC, which shows a lack of good governance in the country,” Somnuck said.

He also said the NCPO had revoked city plans in three provinces because authorities wanted to rush the expansion of the Map Taphut Deepwater Seaport, while Rayong’s current city plan barred land reclamation from the sea. The government’s revocation of that prohibition circumvented a legal obstacle.

Meanwhile, local people in Rayong also objected to the order, with Banjerd Luangphon, a local fisherman, saying he was very sad that the government had used its special powers to rush the industrial development for the benefit only of rich investors, while ignoring local poor people.

Banjerd said Rayong’s marine resources were rapidly being destroyed by development and he was concerned that the revocation of city planning and expansion of the deepwater seaport would spell the end of traditional fisheries off Rayong, harshly affecting the livelihoods of local people including himself.