EARTH Thailand

EEC protests could escalate, government warned

The Nation 23 July 2019 | PHUWIT LIMVIPHUWAT

Opponents of the Eastern Economic Corridor city plan have warned they will escalate their protests and might ask the Administrative Court to halt the project indefinitely if the Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO) refuses to postpone the draft finalisation beyond August 9 to allow for more public input.

Concerned that the draft might allow factories in agricultural areas, protesters on Tuesday marched from Hua Lamphong Railway Station to EECO headquarters in western Bangkok.

The EECO guaranteed that their concerns would be considered even though 35 public hearings had already been held and the drafting process was in accordance with international standards.

The EEC is the flagship economic project of the current and last governments, aimed at drawing vast foreign investment and turning eastern provinces into an economic hub for all of Southeast Asia. 

Large areas of Rayong, Chachoengsao and Chon Buri have been designated as an industrial zone for high-tech industries.

Disputes over land use, however, have resulted in a long-term challenge for regulators and investors as local communities refuse to make way for industrial estates, which are widely criticised for triggering floods and pollution.

“The key reason we are peacefully protesting today is because the city planning process has not included sufficient consultation with the communities that will be affected,” said Gunn Tettiyakul, leader of a group called the Eastern Provinces Community.

“In the past, various industrial projects have been set up near agricultural areas, causing floods, inadequate waste disposal and water pollution for communities nearby.”

Sarayoot Sonraksa, whose fish farm straddles the Chachoengsao-Chon Buri border, cited an industrial estate run by Amata that has caused flooding and waste problems and noted that Amata is now planning another one on the Bang Pakong River.

The protesters demanded changes to the draft city plan reflecting their concerns, copies of the official draft sent to Gunn and other community representatives, and a delay in its finalisation to allow for further public participation.

If the demands are not met, Gunn said, protests could increase significantly in scale.

If the draft is finalised and approved by the Cabinet, residents of all three provinces might ask the Administrative Court to halt the planning process indefinitely.

“The city planning process has been progressing in accordance with the law and international practice,” Tasanee Kiatpatraporn, deputy secretary-general of the EECO, insisted. “The plan is now more than 90 per cent complete and the agricultural areas are protected from intrusion by industrial estates.”

And residents have been able to air concerns at 25 official public hearings in the past few years, 10 unofficial hearings and during 15 EECO visits to the area, she noted.

But the EECO will consider the complaints, distribute the official draft by the end of Tuesday and remain open to hearing further comments, she said.