Environmentalists are urging the government to slow down the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in order to protect locals from environmental impacts and related conflicts.
The Assembly of NGOs for the Protection and Conservation of the Environment and Natural Resources yesterday submitted a petition to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging him to revoke all special laws aimed at promoting the EEC, amend the EEC Act and suspend harmful investment projects. The petition also called for a study strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and a review of the city plan and land usage in EEC provinces.
Ronnachai Chainiwattana, manager of the NGO assembly, said that over the past five years, the National Council for Peace and Order has drafted many laws in favour of large-scale industrial investment in the EEC and other special economic zones (SEZs). These laws and orders bypassed many environmental protection regulations, which contributed to severe environmental and health impacts on people and ecosystems.
Ronnachai pointed out that the demand for land to cater to investments in the EEC and other SEZs were also worsening land conflicts, especially in the three EEC provinces – Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong. He said many developers were buying up plots to resell them to industrial investors, leaving farmers landless.
EEC Watch coordinator Gunn Tattiyakul further added that many of the plots, designated as industrial promotion zones, are fertile farmland. So, if these lands are converted into industrial parks, the rich natural resources will vanish forever and threaten the country with food insecurity.
“Poor selection of land for industrial development is closely related to the recent passing of the controversial Factory Bill, which will exempt small, polluting factories from the grip of any environmental protection regulations and allow them to be built anywhere, regardless of city plan,” Gunn said.
He highlighted that industrial development in the EEC also ignored local people’s role and almost all development projects and industrial investments in the EEC were done without public participation or hearing.
The EEC development also lacks appropriate SEA studies, he noted, as every development was done separately. The same was the case of the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment study of each project, as it only focused on the scope of that specific project.
“The EEC has no guidelines for development that suits the region’s advantages and local people’s demands,” he said.
Gunn said that due to the lack of SEA, locals in EEC provinces are coordinating with academics to come up with their own SEA studies. It found that the three provinces can all be developed as eco-tourism and cultural destinations, while the fertile Bang Pakong River plain in Chachoengsao province is suited for producing food to feed the country and for export.
“The large-scale industrial development in the EEC is not sustainable. It will not let us achieve any of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], so we should stop and reconsider the EEC development policies carefully, so as to ensure that local people get the highest benefit from this mega-project,” he said.