Civic groups lobby to protect Makkasan land

Civic networks will put pressure on the government to save land in Makkasan area as the capital’s lung. (Photo by Jetjaras Na Ranong)

Civic networks are set to rally in front of Government House on Thursday to demand the administration spare the State Railway of Thailand’s (SRT) 497 rai of land in Makkasan area from being included in its high-speed rail project linking three major airports.

They stressed that the area serves as the capital’s lung and the rail maintenance depot there could be turned into a museum for tourists.

About 150 rai of the land is planned to be included in the 220-billion-baht high-speed train project linking three gateway airports — Suvarnabhumi in Samut Prakan, Don Mueang in Bangkok and U-Tapao in Rayong. The project is part of the government’s much-touted Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

The SRT will hand the land to the Charoen Pokphand Group-led consortium, which won the bid to develop the scheme, on Thursday.

Various civic groups, labour networks and academics also vowed to join the rally in front of Government House on the same day to oppose the use of the land as part of the scheme.

Disquiet over the SRT's plan was spelled out at a seminar about the impact of the EEC project on the Makkasan historic site held by the Thai Labour Museum.

“The Makkasan land serves as Bangkok’s last lung,” said Pongkwan Sukwattana Lassus, an architect and member of the Association of Siamese Architects.

“The Makkasan rail factory is a place where train maintenance is carried out. It could still provide further service. This is a living heritage site.”

Another member of the association, Parinya Chukaew, said foreign countries attach significant importance to conservation.

In Taiwan, the administration gave in to the public demand to turn a rail facility into a museum despite the fact that it sits on a business district. “Their government listened to what people wanted,” said Mr Parinya.

Countdown to change at train maintenance depot in Makkasan. (Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong)

The depot is home to old buildings dating back 100 years with machinery and spare parts from that era still intact. “This place has a historical value,” said Mr Parinya.

Suwit Sumanon, president of the Railway Workers’ Confederation, said the EEC project is likely to have a detrimental impact on the agricultural sector in the East.

SRT workers in the Makkasan area also want to have the maintenance depot there spared from the EEC project, he said.

Sunee Chairos, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, echoed Mr Suwit, saying the EEC project would cause substantial trouble for farmers.

Environmental impact assessments are not required for projects developed under the EEC scheme as a result of a Section 44 order which has not yet been repealed, she added.

Activist Srisuwan Janya, meanwhile, issued a statement calling on the EEC board to revise the scheme and take into account the context of livelihoods in the East. 

"There needs to be a process to heed all stakeholders thoroughly," said Mr Srisuwan, secretary-general of the Association to Protect the Thai Constitution.