After a 15-year legal battle, villagers living near Kanchanaburi's lead-contaminated Klity Creek have finally scored a decisive victory over the state pollution-control agency in the country's first environmental case to see a final court ruling.
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The Supreme Administrative Court yesterday ordered the Pollution Control Department (PCD) to pay a combined Bt3.8 million in compensation to 22 villagers living around Klity Creek and to rehabilitate their local environment. The PCD is now required to draw up a rehabilitation plan for tainted water, soil and vegetables and monitor its implementation for a year until the lead levels drop to standard levels.
“We want our old life back,” said Sompong Thongphachailai, one of the affected villagers. He lamented that due to the contamination, the locals could not safely use the water or eat aquatic animals from Klity Creek.
He said locals needed water for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and clothes, gardening, and farming. The polluted creek, therefore, was a major disruption to their lives, he said.
Sompong was among 22 villagers who petitioned the Central Administrative Court in 2004, complaining that their village’s lifeline, Klity Creek, was heavily polluted. The pollution was blamed on Lead Concentrate Co, which had operated a lead mine nearby. Winning a concession in 1967, the company was forced to shut down in 1998.
The court yesterday ordered the PCD to pay Bt177,199 to each of the 22 complainants. The compensation was calculated based on the fact that the affected villagers were unable to obtain food from the creek between August 2004 and June 2012.
“The PCD must pay compensation because it was slow in preventing further damage from the lead contamination,” the court said. The lead contamination was first reported in 1988.
Farmer Preecha Arunsrisuwan, 48, said he hoped the creek would become clean enough to support locals’ lives again. “I am happy with the court’s verdict,” he said tearfully.
Yaseh Nasuansuwan, 61, said he wanted the PCD to remove tainted sediments from the creek soon.
PCD director-general Wichien Jungrungruang said his agency would accept and comply with the Supreme Court’s final verdict, adding that he will ask the government to allocate funds to pay compensation for the affected villagers.
However, he insisted that the department had not neglected to restore the tainted creek. Moreover, the department next month planned to remove 3,000 tonnes of tainted soil that had previously been stored underground.
Meanwhile, environmental lawyer Surachai Trong-ngam, who represents the villagers, said the verdict provided a new norm for state agencies to follow in drawing up environmental-protection plans before it proceeded with its own construction plans or permitted private firms to operate businesses that might harm people’s health or the environment.