Isaan activists and villagers to organise stance before petitioning government
ACTIVISTS and affected villagers will meet in mid-August to take a stand against potash mining and related industries in the Northeast, before they file a formal petition to the government, a prominent activist said yesterday.
Meanwhile, many private mining companies are going ahead with applying for potash-mining permits and special licences covering 3.5 million rai (560,000 hectares) in the region. Some have already been granted special licences.
Decha Kambaomuang of the Isaan Rights and Liberty Centre said the residents from the 10 northeastern provinces where the mining would take place would also attend the meeting next month.
Expressing concern that no public participation or gathering of public opinions had taken place before permits and special licences were granted, Decha added that the “Prachakhom” opinion-gathering events hosted by some projects did not require attendees’ votes. This worried villagers because most mining areas were within communities, hence hastily approving licences and hosting Prachakhom events just for the sake of it could lead to subsequent impacts on community and environment, he said.
Somporn Phengkham of Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute said an academic forum on a potash mine in Udon Thani’s Muang and Prachaksinlapakhom districts would be held late next month to listen to people’s concerns about possible impacts from mining activities and related industries.
Separately, Suwit Kularbwong, secretary-general of the Isaan NGO Coordinating Committee, called on the government last Saturday to prioritise people’s rights and freedoms. Urging the government to conduct careful studies and assess alternatives in developing the region, |Suwit also said the environmental health impact assessment (EHIA) reports should employ clear standards and the government should be able to tell the public, especially those in the Northeast, about their benefits.
“State agencies such as the Industry Ministry shouldn’t act as if they are middlemen to sell the country’s assets to foreigners, as most mining companies applying for permits are Chinese or others’ nominees,” Suwit said. “People’s participation, rights and freedoms are a bigger issue here.”
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula confirmed in the “Return of Happiness” TV show last Friday that there were 400 billion tonnes of potash-ore deposits in the Northeast – possibly Asia’s or even the world’s largest source of the mineral.
Hence, he said, it could serve as a foundation for new industry and suggested that the government would press ahead with its plan to open up potash-mining industry as part of a strategy to stimulate the economy.
Recently, the Industry Ministry via the Department of Primary Industries and Mines promoted potash mining in the Northeast by working toward issuing patent permits and special licences covering 3.5 million rai in total.
A patent permit was granted to Asean Potash Mining for a 9,700-rai mine in Chaiyaphum’s Bamnet Narong district, which was expected to start producing potash fertilisers by 2019.
Two more companies were awaiting patent permits. Thai Cali Co, whose application for a 9,005-rai mine in Nakhon Ratchasima province has been approved by the Mineral Act committee, is now awaiting a final green light from the Industry Ministry.
Asia Pacific Potash Corporation’s application for four plots covering 26,446 rai in Udon Thani province is awaiting approval by the Udon Thani Industry Office and the completion of mandatory meetings with locals.
Five companies have already been granted special licences, while 34 other companies are still applying for them. While most special-licence holders are in the process of preparing to survey the area, Rongpang Mining Co has already drilled three mineral-survey pits.