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EEC plans ‘must protect against pollution, job loss’

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ACTIVISTS and academics are preparing to take legal action against the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) amid concerns over its impact on local people’s rights and on further aggravating pollution.

The National Legislative Assembly passed the EEC bill into law on Thursday night, designating the already rapidly industrialising eastern region as a special economic zone in order to attract foreign investment. 
Activist Srisuwan Janya said he was considering lodging a petition with the Constitutional Court to challenge the new law’s validity.
“Let me look at its details first,” Srisuwan told The Nation yesterday. 
The law could potentially violate the rights of local people in the three main provinces covered by the EEC – Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao – as well as nearby provinces, he said.
The law gave foreign investors too many tax privileges as well as the right to lease land for as long as 90 years, he explained. 
“Why would we allow them to use our resources, land, water, air and other natural resources almost free of charge?” he asked. 
Srisuwan will organise a meeting of local people early next month in Rayong province in order to educate them about the potential impact of the law and how it could jeopardise their rights. Local communities had so far responded well to his move as they were worried about the EEC impact on their livelihoods, he said. 
he also raised the issue of air pollution in the Mapta Phut industrial complex in Rayong. Air quality could deteriorate when more investment pours into the region under the EEC initiative, he said. 
Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu, senior researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute, who closely follows EEC, shared similar concerns about pollution. 
There is no clear direction in the law for how pollution would be addressed, she said, just a vague clause about health and environmental impact assessments in the law. 
“As Bangkok is now facing rising air pollution at a dangerous level, it could happen in the EEC region,” she noted. 
“The main issue with health and environmental impact assessments conducted by authorities is that they have often favoured big businesses at the expense of local community,” said Saowaruj. 
So far, it was not clear if the welfare of local people would be guaranteed, or whether they would be employed in well-paid jobs, she said. 
The government may need to look at the experience of Nevada in the United States, where state authorities required Tesla, the electric car and battery manufacturers, to hire those live in Nevada State, she said.
Under the law, the government will create a fund designed to provide funding and training to meet the demand for skilled labour in the EEC. However, Saowaruj said it was not clear how it would be executed for the benefit of the local people. 
The EEC project could attract additional foreign direct investment if the government implemented a high-speed rail project linking the three main international airports – Suvarnabhumi, Don Muang in Bangkok and U-tapao in Chon Buri. 
Potential industries in the EEC include aviation, logistics, robotics and automation, and digital businesses may also attract investment, she said. 
TDRI will next month hold an academic seminar, along with a research house from Japan, exploring the potential return from rail investment in the EEC. 

Published : February 09, 2018


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