BANGKOK — Demonstrators from three eastern provinces promised Monday to take the government to court if it approves a new economic zoning law which they claim will severely affect their livelihoods.
The protesters made the threat at a rally in front of Government House today, where they said the Eastern Economic Corridor will turn swathes of agricultural land into industrial zones, irreversibly affecting farmlands and the environment.
“Once they approve it, we will take the matter to the Supreme Administrative Court,” Gunn Tattiyabul, the coordinator of the Friends of the East Network, said an interview.
The demonstrators are residents of Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Rayong provinces – a region to be covered in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a scheme offering tax and other incentives to entice public-private infrastructure and investment partnerships.
The government says the project will boost the national economy and develop the eastern seaboard into a logistics hub.
But the protesters who gathered in front of Government House say the military regime pushed for the plan without adequate consultation with locals.
Gunn said his network are concerned that fertile farmlands, as well as Bang Pakong River, will be irrevocably damaged due to the conversion of “green zones” into “purple zones,” which denote industrial areas for factories.
He added that many “public hearings” went ahead with little notice given to locals. The activist urged the government to put the zoning decision on hold.
Another protester, Sarayuth Sonraksa, accused the idea of forwarding the interests of big businesses ahead of local residents.
“Is it about hiking up the land price?” asked Sarayuth.
The group will remain in Bangkok to await whether the cabinet approves the new zoning plan in their weekly meeting tomorrow.
A letter to the network dated July 19 signed by Anawat Suwandej, deputy director-general of the Department of Public Work and Town Planning, insists that the department listened to local concerns.
“The Department of Public Work and Town Planning has taken into consideration the relationship with communities, people’s health, the environment and the ecosystem under the principle of sustainable development, especially because this is the first case of such planning covering a number of provinces,” part of the letter obtained by Khaosod English read.
The letter states that forested areas are being clearly demarcated in the new zoning in order to prevent further encroachment and protect water sources. It also maintains that factories will be kept at least 500 meters from water sources, including the river.
The letter adds further that industrial estates proposed under the new zoning must undergo environmental impact assessments, as well as public hearing processes.
But the protesters aren’t convinced, citing concerns that industrial waste will damage the Bangpakong river and fish.