People in provinces concerned over possible mining operations

national September 15, 2015 01:00


A FORMER WORKER at Akara Resources' gold mine in Phichit's Thab Khlo district passed away earlier this month after long suffering from symptoms that could be associated with his job at the mine.

The death of Somkid Thampawet has stirred up fear and concern in the heart of many locals who have lived near mines and may see mining operations in their neighbourhood. 
The current government, after all, has declared a policy to grant concessions for more than 300 gold mines across the country. 
“Judging by the policy, it is clear that the government seeks to serve business groups rather than to address people’s concerns,” Stop Global Warming Association president Srisuwan Janya said. 
Many people are unhappy with this policy. To date, about 12,000 individuals have already signed their name to a petition to have the policy cancelled. 
Opponents of the pro-mining policy hope to gather about 20,000 signatures soon. 
If the policy goes ahead, new mines will spring into operation in provinces from Phichit to Phitsanulok, to Lop Buri, Loei, Satun, Sa Kaew, Surat Thani, Chanthaburi, Rayong, Saraburi, Nakhon Sawan and Phetchabun. 
“The country should learn lessons from the gold mines that exist already,” said Arom Khamjing, a local affected by a gold mine in the Lower North. 
The move against the policy is in line with recent efforts to have the Primary Industries and Mines Department (DPIM) cancel a public hearing on gold-mine concessions in 12 provinces.
The original date for the public hearing was September 15 at Phichit’s Tambon Khaojedluk Administrative Organisation with a second public hearing planned at Lop Buri’s Tambon Khok Tum Administrative Organisation on September 18. 
However, both events were cancelled. 
The DPIM has admitted it canned the events mainly because of massive public opposition to gold mine concessions.
Another case is in Udon Thani. A public meeting on a potash mine is still scheduled to take place at a military base in the Northeast province today, as one of the last events that need to be fulfilled under laws requiring public participation in such projects. 
Manee Boonrod, a local who has long campaigned against the potash mine, said she received an invitation to attend the public meeting or “Prachakhom Mooban” just the other day. The invitation was issued last Friday. 
“Why will such a meeting be held inside a military camp? I feel like people are being forced to accept the mine,” she lamented. 
She wondered why soldiers, police and volunteers were more often than not mobilised to protect a forum for projects that are potentially hazardous.
Suwit Kularbwong, secretary-general of the northeastern section of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development, said he felt like investors were trying to push hard for their projects now in a bid to secure licences during the term of the current government.
“But the point is that their projects are big and may hit the environment hard,” he said. 
In the eyes of Srisuwan, at stake now are the health and quality of life that all Thai constitutions sought to protect. 
Srisuwan has hinted that when pushed into the corner, locals will fight back and take their grievances to the courts. 
However, sadly for people whose lives may be at the mercy of investors, the Industry Ministry’s Mining Operations Bill is now being assessed and it will clearly provide a virtual shortcut for mining investors. If the bill is enacted, it will become much easier for investors to obtain licences for exploration and mining. 
Will the authorities really ignore the plight and concerns of the people? 
I hope the answer is “No”. Life is priceless and no life should be ruined at the hands of irresponsible mining operations. 
Let’s remember Somkid. 
I have nothing against socially and environmentally responsible mining firms. So, the bottom line is to listen to the opinion of locals and install measures that protect people from any adverse mining operation impacts. 

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