By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
IN the eyes of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), new coal-fired power plants and infrastructure development will give the Southern Region a new face, but sadly an ugly one.
The NGOs believe that as soon as the new power plant begins operations, large-scale industrialisation will follow and many development projects may affect people’s rights.
Representatives from several NGOs expressed these concerns at a forum held by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Buri Sriphu Hotel in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. Locals at the same forum also voiced suspicion that the rushed power and infrastructure development projects simply aimed at facilitating large-scale industrial expansion.
Chana Hospital director Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, who is also a social activist based in Songkhla, noted that many big development projects were being pushed forward in the South such as the Thepa and Krabi coal-fired power plants, Pakbara deep-water seaport, a second seaport in Songkhla and the Thai Canal project. He said it was clear that these projects were a move towards major development in the future.
“Songkhla uses around 450 megawatts of electricity at its peak and we already have the 1,500MW Chana power plant. Why would Egat [Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] want to build another 2,200MW coal-fired power plant in the province? We don’t need that much electricity,” Supat said.
“The Chana power plant can already efficiently feed five provinces in the far South and the Thepa coal-fired power plant will produce up to 80 per cent of the total electricity-generation capacity of the region.” He went on to say that the South does not suffer from electricity shortage as claimed by Egat and it does not need new power plants unless there is going to be large-scale industrialisation there.
According to Egat, provinces in the South had set a new peak record of electricity usage in April this year at 2,619MW, while the total electricity generation capacity in the South was 3,059MW as of the end of 2014.
As per Kasetsart University economics lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed’s estimation, in 2019 the total electricity generation capacity in the South would be 3,832MW without a new power plant and usage would peak at 3,256MW.
Moreover, Somboon Khamhang, secretary-general of the Non-Government Organisation Committee on Rural Development in the South, stated that the government had also pushed forward the land-bridge project from Pakbara seaport in Satun to a second Songkhla seaport without a firm production base in the area.
“There are still doubts about what will be shipped from the two new seaports, so I wonder if the major infrastructure investment in the region is in preparation for a new industrial estate in the South,” Somboon said.
He pointed out that apart from the proposed Satun-Songkhla land-bridge project, there could also be nuclear power plant projects in the South as well. “This would be a major transformation of the South. Agriculture and tourism will be replaced with heavy and chemical industry, as the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong cannot be expanded. This is the best target for industrial expansion because of its prime location between the two seas,” he said.
“Industry will pollute our land and sea just like what is happening in Map Ta Phut, and this is the critical point for us all to define our future.”
The social workers also gave recommendations to the NHRC to better protect human rights at a time when a new age of development for the South is knocking on its door.
Prasitchai Nu-nuan, coordinator for Protect Andaman from Coal Network, urged the NHRC to take a more active role in promoting more laws.
“The new constitution and relevant laws cannot provide justice and protect people from harmful development. The NHRC should take a more proactive stance to amend laws and ensure that the people can fight to protect their rights with fair rules,” Prasitchai said. NHRC commissioner Prakairatana Thontiravong said that the commission would consider all recommendations and that the agency was doing its best to settle problems between developers and people. He also vowed that the NHRC would protect everyone’s rights.
Prakairatana said the NHRC did not just actively protect human rights, but also encouraged the government and investors to understand and value human-rights principles, so they could achieve sustainable development and prevent the violation of rights in the first place.