EARTH Thailand

Court fines mining firm B15m

Bangkok Post 14 December 2018

Locals win ten-year environmental battle

The Loei Provincial Court on Thursday ordered Tungkum, a gold mining company, to pay about 15 million baht in compensation to families affected by its mining activities.

The verdict yesterday brought smiles to the faces of 165 plaintiffs -- residents of six villages in Wang Saphung district, who have been fighting pollution caused by gold mining for over a decade.

The court dropped the mining company's complaint that claimed the statute of limitations for the residents' complaints had expired.

The judge also said the mining company had no solid evidence to argue against the plaintiffs' accusation that heavy metals had leaked from its mine. The evidence and testimony given by the villagers are much more reliable, the court said.

The farmers told the court in their lawsuit that cyanide, which had been stored in ore-tailing ponds, and other health harmful chemicals including arsenic and manganese had leaked out and damaged their crop fields and public waterways. The mining site is close to farmland, mostly paddy fields and rubber plantations, in tambon Khao Luang.

Local villagers claimed the pollution has not only harmed their health but also reduced their household incomes as they need to buy water and food from outside because the local land and soil is too contaminated.

Those plaintiffs sued the company in court on April 25, seeking more than 200 million baht in compensation. However, the court reduced the amount, reasoning that the numbers were calculated by the complainants and it is difficult to estimate the actual impact on their lives. The judge ordered the company to pay 104,000 baht to each of the 149 families.

The money issue was a concern among the affected farmers after Tungkum, whose mining licence expired five years ago, went bankrupt. This prompted the lawyer to ask the government to monitor the legal battle between the company and the villagers.

The court yesterday also ordered the company to take full responsibility for cleaning up contamination and restoring the environment to a livable condition.

Tungkum was allowed to mine in the area in 2006. The residents were upset by its activities which caused a range of impacts from loud noise and dust, to soil and water pollution. They staged a protest in the same year.

In 2014, the conflict with Tungkum hit newspaper headlines when protesters were attacked by about 200 armed men.