NAKHON RATCHASIMA : A researcher has warned local rice farmers against using a geological survey report compiled by Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University as central evidence in their legal battle over soil salinisation.
The report does not contain any concrete proof that nearby salt farms have contributed to soil salinity in three districts, the researcher said.
Scores of rice farmers from Pra Thong Kham, Non Sung and Non Thai districts are preparing legal action against provincial authorities over their alleged failure to address the issue, using the research report as key evidence.
The farmers claim that the unregulated operation of salt and shrimp farms has increased soil salinity and harmed the quality of their land.
Sarothini Kaewthani, one of the report's researchers, said the team was wrapping up analysis of aerial images used to identify soil salinisation in the districts.
She said that while there is evidence of widespread soil salinisation in several areas - three tambons in Samrong, Khang Phlu, Bang Wang in Non Thai district, tambon Pang Tiam in Pra Thong Kham and tambon Pon Sonkhram in Non Sung district - there was no conclusive evidence it was man-made.
"We don't have the equipment to run chemical tests. So we advise that the rice farmers seek further help from specialists," she said.
Ms Sarothini also suggested that comparative soil data was needed from before and after salt farms were established in the area.
The data would add weight to farmers' petitions, which will soon be submitted to the Administrative Court and the provincial governor, she said.
The rice farmers intend to file a lawsuit with the Administrative Court against the governor and seven state agencies for not taking action to offset the danger of soil salinity.
They claim their rice fields have been ruined as a result of nearby salt and shrimp farming.
Thaworn Phetkhunthod, leader of the affected rice farmers, said they would meet tomorrow to discuss the research team's advice.
He also called on the governor to set up a new committee to assist with the rice field rehabilitation process.
He said the rice farmers rejected the current committee - which was appointed two weeks ago - because it was responsible solely for rice farms affected by nearby shrimp farming.
"We want a new committee within 45 days. It has to address salinity caused by shrimp and salt farming," he said.
Provincial industry office chief Weerayos Uttaranakhon maintained that all 23 salt processing facilities in the three districts operate in compliance with regulations.
He rejected a rice farmer's claim that salt processing operations continue year-round despite a limited permit restricting them to between October and March.
He said he would hold talks with the rice farmers soon to clear up any misunderstanding.
He could not comment on the operation of shrimp farms, as they fall under the responsibility of the fisheries office, he said.
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- Writer: Prasit Tangprasert