River basins could lose protection

national May 11, 2013 00:00

By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation

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Critics fear ploy to facilitate Bt350-bn scheme

Plans by the Office of Natural Resources and Environ-mental Policy and Planning (ONEP) to seek the removal of certain river basins from a list of protected areas has worried environmental advocates, who view the move as a bid to relax the legal requirements for participants in the government’s Bt350-billion water-management mega-project.

ONEP said recently it would ask the government to de-list those river basins protected by a Cabinet resolution, due to a “lack of clarity” on designated boundaries for protected areas. 
However, environmental advocates say they are concerned the de-listing will open the floodgates for construction projects under the government’s mega-project scheme. 
The mega-project construction plan has attracted only a small number of bidders, as many prospective participants are concerned about the environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements.
ONEP secretary-general Santi Boonprakrab said he had proposed the government amend the Cabinet resolution issued on November 3, 2009, and remove from the list the protected basins of large rivers.
Among those rivers proposed for de-listing are the Ping, Wang, Yom, Nan, Songkhram, Kwae Noi, Kwae Yai, Lam Plai Mat, Lower Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong. 
Santi said ONEP wanted to de-list the river basins because his agency was keen to make the boundaries of protected areas clearer before listing them again.
Under the Cabinet resolution, any construction project built in a protected area is subject to an EIA study, or an environmental health impact assessment. 
To date, about 47 national river basins have been listed as protected areas under the Cabinet resolution of 2009.
Hannarong Yaowalers, president of the Foundation for Integrated Water Management, said he was worried the removal of protected river basins would allow the Bt350-billion mega-project to go ahead with no restrictions. Without existing measures of screening, there could be adverse impacts on the environment and natural resources, as well as the local people’s health, he added. 
“If the government agrees to amend this Cabinet resolution and remove the … basins from protection, that means we will have no way of assessing the environmental and biological conditions in local areas,” he said. 
He suggested ONEP use another measure to designate the boundaries of protected basins instead of removing them from the protection list.
However, ONEP’s Santi insists the de-listing is not aimed at relaxing rules for the mega-project. “Although protection under the Cabinet resolution is lifted, there are other laws that can protect the river basins,” he said. 
The National River Basin Management Sub-Committee will study Santi’s proposal on 
May 23.
De-listing candidates 
Rivers proposed for removal from the protected list:
Ping, Wang, Yom, Nan, Songkhram, Kwae Noi, Kwae Yai, Lam Plai Mat, Lower Chao Phraya, 
Bang Pakong

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