EARTH Thailand

Plaintiffs in Klity Creek case triumph after 13-year effort


Supreme court's 'historic' verdict includes bt20.2M compensation, mandatory clean-up pf contamination and blame for executives.

A 13-YEAR-LONG court battle with a lead-mining company has finally come to an end for people from the Lower Klity village in Kanchaburi province, as the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that residents will be compensated and executives forced to fund the clean up of Klity Creek.

The eight plaintiffs from Lower Klity village, where people have been suffering from lead poisoning for more than 40 years due to mining upstream, will be given Bt20.2 million in compensation.

However, while villagers are delighted with the victory, they complain that the process took too long and that they still have to continue living with the contamination until the clean-up operation is completed.

"For more than an a decade of our legal battle, we have had to face several problems, such as having to travel to court, which is a long, difficult and expensive journey," Kamthon Srisuwanmala, one of the plaintiffs, said.

"Moreover, the lawsuit took a long time and people had to continue living with lead poisoning without anything being done to help us."

Kamthon said villagers had no choice but to continue using water from the contaminated creek and many had died from poisoning.

"All eight plaintiffs suffer from lead poisoning, but we are luckier than the other 151 people who are suing the mining company, because four of them have already died as they waited for a verdict," he said.

He said money was not the plaintiffs' main motive although the plaintiffs were very happy with the judgment.

"It does not matter how much we get from the defendants. What we really need is for the creek to be restored, so people can safely make a living from it again," he said.

Somchai Ameen, the plaintiffs' lawyer from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said the compensation ordered by the Supreme Court was less than the amount set by the Appeals Court, covers compensation for future illnesses and will be paid over two years.

"The Bt20.2 million covers previous medical expenses as well as ones in the future. It also covers the loss of opportunity, as the plaintiffs were unable to lead healthy lives due to the lead poisoning," Somchai said.

He added that the defendants from the firm Lead Concentrate Company would also have to pay the Pollution Control Department (PCD) to clean up the creek.

Surapong Kongchantuk, head of the Karen Studies and Development Centre, said the ruling should be deemed historic because it was the first time that the court applied the Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act. The case will serve as an example for other cases, he added.

"This ruling has set a lot of new principles. For instance, the court has recognised the rights of indigenous people for the first time and has included all costs such as the loss of opportunity," Surapong said.

"The court also ordered the company's executives take responsibility, because they were in charge of the management and cannot deny their role in the impact the operation had."

The lawyer said the focus has to be on monitoring the restoration efforts and ensuring that lead is really removed from Klity Creek.

PCD director-general Wichan Simachaya said the restoration process should be started within the year and the department was in the process of looking for a proper contractor that can clean the lead slag from the creek.

Timeline of Klity Creek lead contamination lawsuit

1967 The lead mine starts operations.

1975 Nearby villagers start to notice the effects of lead contamination in Klity Creek.

1998 The Mineral Resources Department orders the mine to stop mining operations.

2003 Eight villagers from Lower Klity Village sue the mine.

2006 The plaintiffs appeal to the Appeal Court.

2008 The case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

26 April  2016 The Supreme Court is scheduled to read the verdict, but postpones.

14 July  2016 The Supreme Court reads the verdict and ends the 13-year lawsuit.

Source: The Nation