After Victory in Court, Nong Phawa locals put up banner calling for Environmental Restoration
EARTH REPORT 22 December 2022
“Area Contaminated by Dangerous Chemical (Acid) – Gov Must Restore ASAP!” – cries a banner in front of Tiab Smanmit decimated rubber plantation, one of the areas in Nong Phawa village Moo 4, Bang But subdistrict, Ban Khai district, Rayong province, most affected by the recycling operations of Win Process company. Today, heavy metal can be found in Tiab’s plantation, which have lost more than 1,000 rubber trees since 2017.
June 7th, 2021, Tiab and 14 other Nong Phawa villagers sued Win Process for compensation and environmental restoration. After more than a year of deliberation, hearing, and witness cross-examination (with one of the expert witnesses being the Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment), Rayong court ruled in favor of the citizens on December 13th, 2022. Win Process company must pay over 20 million baht in compensation and restore the environment.
Nong Phawa villagers said after the ruling that they hope for fair compensation and real environmental restoration. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Chamnan Sirirak, added that the ruling states clearly the polluter must pay for environmental restoration. This ruling therefore could be shown to government agencies, so that they can take actions to force the polluters to pay. If the polluter does not obey, then the agency can begin the work and force the polluters to pay afterward.
However, government agencies have not taken this approach in the past. This exacerbated the issue that Thailand has never had a fund specifically for the purpose of environmental restoration in the same vein as the United State’s Superfund. In the past, activists have called for the Thai government to establish a law that requires factories to pay a certain amount into a designated fund, which could be used to initiate environmental restoration, while legal actions are being taken against polluters. However, that suggestion has not been passed into the law.
The result is even when villagers won a court case, the polluters could simply escape, and the environment would be left damaged. This is a fate that has fallen upon the locals of Nampu subdistrict, Ratchaburi, who won a historic environmental class action lawsuit in 2020, but today the ruling has yet to translate into compensation or environmental restoration of any kind.
One can only hope that the banner in front of Tiab’s house will contribute to the growing calls for environmental restoration of polluted sites, or the reformation of the legal structure that prevents this from happening.