The approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline in Songkhla 12 years ago was illegal, a Supreme Administrative Court judge said Tuesday.
However, judge Panuphan Chairat stopped short of ordering the revocation of the pipeline's permit, as demanded by a group of 18 residents from Songkhla's Chana district.
The residents, calling themselves the Pipeline Project Opponent Network, say their lives have been affected by the pipeline and that its licensing was illegal.
The pipeline came ashore in Chana district of Songkhla, and continued across Thailand into Malaysia.
An expert panel of the National Environment Board (NEB) approved the EIA for the pipeline, a joint venture between PTT Plc and Malaysia's Petronas, in 2001.
In his opening statement, Judge Panuphan said the NEB approved the EIA despite rejecting a social impact assessment and mitigation plan submitted by the developers.
The judge said the decision to approve the EIA, which paved the way for the pipeline's construction, violated the 1992 Environment Quality Promotion and Protection Act. Such approval should only be granted if a panel agrees with all points in an assessment.
As the panel in this case rejected the pipeline's social impact and mitigation assessments, it should not have approved the EIA, the judge said.
The 18 plaintiffs asked the court to revoke the NEB panel's resolution to approve the EIA and the project's construction permits, which were issued by the Marine Department after the EIA received official blessings.
Judge Panuphan, however, suggested the panel's resolution and the permits should not be revoked, as stopping the pipeline's operations would cause huge economic losses for the country.
He said the panel which approved the EIA should review its decision by properly taking into account the social impacts of the project and the companies' impact mitigation and monitoring plans.
The EIA, the judge said, should take into account the Prince of Songkla University's 2002 study of the project's social impacts. "By amending the EIA, there would be no need for the Marine Department to revoke the permits granted to the operator to lay the pipeline," the judge said. He said the EIA amendment should be completed within 180 days of the Supreme Administrative Court's verdict. The court has yet to set a date for the verdict.
Ustad Nasori, one of the plaintiffs and a member of the Pipeline Project Opponent Network, lauded the judge's stance, saying it supported the locals' opinion that the EIA was illegally approved.
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- Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin