Klity Creek case sends strong signal to govt
Villagers win over Pollution Dept a triumph for all Thais
After a 15-year legal battle, the Supreme Administrative Court recently 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.
It is no exaggeration to compare the case to David and Goliath because this was a battle between villagers and a government's agency. There was no precedent.
Although the damages awarded to the villagers may not be a massive amount of money, it is the victory for the villagers to hold the government agency accountable for neglecting to protect their interest.
Many villagers received the news with tearful eyes. The verdict marks the start of the clean-up process to return their lives back as the creek is the locals' lifeline. The community locals depend on the water there for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and clothes, gardening, and farming. The polluted creek, therefore, was a major disruption to their lives.
Some 22 villagers 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 ordered the PCD to pay Bt177,199 to each of 22 villagers, based on the fact that the affected villagers were unable to obtain food from the creek between August 2004 and June 2012.
The PCD was held accountable because it was slow in preventing further damage from the lead contamination, the court said. The lead contamination was first reported in 1988.
The verdict is thus significant.
First of all, the case should set the norm for the authorities to draw up environmental plans to ensure that factories have minimal negative impacts on nearby communities.
The case for compensation caused by the lead-contaminated Klity Creek, near Kanchanaburi, should set a precedent for the responsible agencies to strengthen the environmental preservation requirements.
Many locations are facing the question how to preserve the environment and traditional lifestyle of people amid the changes that come with the development of industry and capitalism.
Thus, enforcement authorities have a vital role to ensure that the new industry does not come at the expense of local people's traditional lifestyles.
Factories and mining are spreading out to wilderness areas to benefit from indigenous resources and locations. But authorities must ensure that investors do not exploit natural resources and leave negative impacts that disrupt local communities.
The verdict has been hailed as the victory to the villagers who managed to unite and fight for their rights. Of course, they have been assisted by the environmental lawyer. But the move was initiated by local villagers, who suffered from the contaminated waterways. In the end, an honest and sincere account by the damaged party is often the most powerful weapon to win such cases.
In addition, the victory was significant because this was a battle against a state agency that enforces regulations. It symbolises public expectation that the government must protect sustainable ways of life.
In the past, the villagers might have thought it difficult to raise a legal case against government agencies on environmental issues, which could be complex, because it requires scientific evidence.
The Klity Creek case shows that there are channels for ordinary people to fight for their rights. The case is a testament to show there can be justice for people who might not have felt they had a "voice".
The court and relevant agencies may also have to be prepared to deal with environmental cases in the future which require specialised scientific knowledge to ensure effective follow-up. For instance, the court may have to work with independent agencies with specialised skills in future cases to ensure the neutral evaluation of environmental impacts and the follow-up for the best interest of all stakeholders.
The case demonstrates a growing awareness among the people on environment issues. After all, the discharge of pollutants can have a wider negative repercussions because water is connected to a resource we all share.