EARTH Thailand

Most Map Ta Phut projects off hook

Bangkok Post 03 September 2010

Rayong villagers react emotionally, slam govt

The Administrative Court has ordered the operating permits of only two industrial projects in the Map Ta Phut area to be terminated, allowing 74 other earlier-suspended projects to go ahead.

The court on Thursday handed down its ruling in the case filed by Map Ta Phut villagers and the Stop Global Warming Association against eight state agencies in June last year.

The court spent almost three hours reading the 116-page verdict, while about 300 Map Ta Phut residents gathered in the court's compound to listen to the much-awaited ruling.

Villagers affected by industrial pollution reacted emotionally to the verdict, which many considered as a defeat.

Noi Jaitang, 70, one of the 43 plaintiffs, was in tears saying people in Rayong would be unable to survive the pollution if more industrial plants were allowed to operate in the area.

"I know nothing about the law but I wish those well-educated people who understand the law would strictly follow it," Mr Noi said.

"I feel despair but will continue fighting for justice."

Mr Noi lives near the Map Ta Phut industrial estate and has lost six of his family members to cancer.

Arom Sodmanee, another plaintiff, blasted the government after hearing the verdict for lacking sincerity in dealing with the pollution problems in Rayong.

"Does the government need us to die first?" she asked.

"We would definitely have won the case if the government had not hurriedly endorsed the list of harmful activities."

The National Environment Board on Aug 23 listed 11 types of industrial projects it regards as harmful and which will require undergoing environmental and health impact assessments.

Suthi Atchasai, a key coordinator of the People's Eastern Network, said he would continue the fight for a clean environment by asking the Administrative Court to revoke the list of harmful activities which, he said, did not cover all harmful projects.

While the pollution-affected villagers were disappointed by the ruling, people in industry said it came as a relief.

Payungsak Chartsuthipol, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the ruling helped reduce the legal and regulatory risks for investors.

The FTI will move forward in promoting the development of eco-friendly industry nationwide, not only in the Map Ta Phut area, he said.

Buddhipongse Punnakanta, an adviser to Industry Minister Chaiwuti Bannawat, said the ministry would look into details of the court's ruling carefully and help those projects considered as harmful carry out the necessary procedures to be allowed to go ahead.

Industrial heavyweights PTT and Siam Cement Group expressed relief that most of their suspended projects would be allowed to proceed. These include PTT's sixth gas separation plant.

But PTT's TOC Glycol project lost its operating permit and the project remains in limbo. In order to get a new licence, the company must conduct new environmental and health impact assessments.

The project should be operational no later than the second quarter of next year, said Tevin Vongvanich, PTT's chief financial officer.

Siam Cement Group must carry out the same process as PTT for its Thai Plastic and Chemical project.

The plaintiffs had accused the eight defendants - the National Environment Board, the secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, the Industrial Estate Authority governor, and the ministers for Natural Resources and Environment, Industry, Public Health, Energy and Transport - of issuing operating permits illegally to the 76 projects because they bypassed Section 67 of the constitution.

The section requires projects seen as harmful to the environment and people's health to hold public hearings and conduct environmental and health impact assessments endorsed by the National Environment Board.

The villagers asked the court last year to revoke the operating permits of 76 industrial projects for allegedly failing to comply with the constitutional requirements.

The court found the eight defendants acted against the law by issuing operating permits to the projects without following Section 67's requirements. It suspended the operations of the 76 projects.

If there are no organic laws with clear directions for state authorities to follow in issuing operating permits to industrial projects, officials should consider other related laws to protect the public interest, the court said.