By Chularat Saengpassa
“We don’t want these plants. We stand firm and will protect our rights to shape our own future and participate in the formation of the state policy,” local groups said in a joint statement yesterday as the project’s owner went ahead with a crucial public forum.
Backing the statement were the Thung Kula Rice Farmers Group, Organic Rice Farmers of Tambon None Sawan, Cattle Group of Ban Hong Hae, Ban Nam Kham Forest Conservation Group, Silk Worm Growers of Tambon None Sawan, Organic Rice Farmers of Tambon Sa Bua, Pathumrat Conservation Group and three others.
Together, they announced that they will reject the results of any public consultation organised to support the project, which is being planned by Banpong Sugar Co Ltd.
“We don’t accept them now and will not accept them in the future,” the groups said. “We will keep fighting to choose the production methods we want and will protect the environment so it supports our way of life.”
The statement was read aloud inside the Pathumrat District Office conference hall, which hosted the public forum for the first phase of the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.
“Now that the first phase is complete, I want to emphasise that the process is not in line with what the EIA should be,” said Chainarong Sretthachau, a lecturer at the Mahasarakham University.
He added that forcing locals to accept whatever comes their way will also hurt the country’s democracy.
According to him, community rights are the foundation of democracy. At present, these community rights are also the last fortress of democracy that ones must defend from damages done by the government.
Locals opposing the project complained that they were allowed just three minutes to air their concerns at the forum, while supporters were given a lot longer. The locals also said that people from outside the zone were paid between Bt300 and Bt500 to voice support for the project at the forum.
If the project materialises, it will be the largest industrial operation in the Thung Kula area, covering 1.27-million rai (203,200 hectares) across five provinces, with 986,807 rai located in Roi Et.
Some 160,000 rai of the Thung Kula Rong Hai area is based in Roi Et’s Pathumrat district, and the project’s chosen site is an area in Pathumrat’s Tambon None Sawan.
According to opponents, however, the public forum is mired in irregularities. For instance, they were held beyond the 5-kilometre radius of the planned project site and the participants had been paid off. The opponents also said that the project would threaten their way of life, which follows the “sufficiency economy” philosophy.
They also said that Tambon None Sawan produces a strain of jasmine rice that has won a patent based on geographical indication, and their organic farming practices have paved the way for rice farmers in 22 other provinces to export organic rice. Promoted as the zone for jasmine rice under the Thailand 4.0 strategy, this area is also famous for silk. The groups also pointed out that many farmers raised livestock in open fields.
For two consecutive years, Tambon None Sawan has won awards for outstanding application of the “sufficiency economy philosophy”, which was conceived and promoted by King Rama IX.
Locals are worried that large industrial operations in their area will only spoil the environment, threaten their health, hurt their livelihood and adversely affect their way of life. They also fear the area will be overtaken by sugarcane fields and that there will be a widespread use of harmful agrochemicals.
Opposition to sugar factories and related power plants is now building in several parts of the Northeast where nearly 30 such plants are been planned.