By The Nation
Residents of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung provinces where at least two dams, one water-diversion project, and one new sluice gate construction are planned travelled to Bangkok on Friday to demand that the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry drop the projects being pushed by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID).
Agriculture Minister Krisda Boonrat was due to meet the protesters yesterday morning but decided to let senior irrigation officials deal with them instead.
A member of the group said the irrigation officials told them that they would ask the Phatthalung governor to look into the issue concerning construction of the Pak Pra sluice gate but pledged nothing on other projects.
Without clear answers, the protesters decided to move to Government House to seek assurances from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
He, however, had gone to Saraburi province on a trip to meet the local people. In a written petition, the group called for the scrapping of all the projects. The Wang Hip dam, planned in Thung Song district as a barrier across Khlong Wang Hip, was approved in principle by the Cabinet last December.
The group said the projects would affect the livelihood of locals and hurt the rich biodiversity of the designated areas, particularly of Khlong Wang Hip in Nakhon Si Thammarat and the Pak Pra Canal linked to Songkhla Lake in Phatthalung province.
They dismissed the department’s reasons for pushing ahead as outdated, arguing the situation had changed and the projects were no longer needed. The group’s representatives had previously travelled to Bangkok to meet the minister before the Cabinet’s approval, but to no avail.
Hannarong Yaowales, chairman of the Integration of Water Management Foundation, said the issue reflected the insincerity of some government figures, who are now avoiding meeting the group even though it was they who had proposed the project to the Cabinet.
As the residents have raised valid points about the projects, the government should listen and instruct officials to put them on hold to find out the facts, he said. For instance, Wang Hip dam is set to help relieve flooding in Nakhon Si Thammarat, yet it is well-known that Wang Hip canal does not run close to the town, he said. A network of southern academics and non-profit organisations, meanwhile, issued a statement in support of the protesters. They too urged the government to scrap the proposed water projects in the South.