Corridor must get local input
Despite restrictions on movement necessitated by the Covid-19 outbreak, locals and conservationists in Songkhla's Chana district, whose abundant land has been designated for the industrial development of the South, have found ways to spell out their discontent at the top-down plan.
On Thursday, Chana residents staged a "Mob from Home" on social media, with people sharing stories and pictures depicting the area as a place for food production and reiterating that's how they want it to stay.
The Prayut Chan-o-cha government on May 7 last year approved its controversial 18.7-billion-baht Southern Economic Corridor (also known as Southern Economic Zone) and claimed it would provide jobs for more than 100,000 people.
The gigantic scheme encompasses a second deep-sea port and stretches across 16,753 rai of land slated for light industry (4,253 rai), heavy industry (4,000 rai), four 3,700 megawatt power plants (4,000 rai), related industries for export and import (2,000 rai), logistics and goods distribution (2,000 rai), and recreational areas and accommodation (500 rai). As part of this transformation, the state will redesignate much of this agricultural land as industrial zones.
Over the past few decades, state developers have pushed for industrial development in an area which they acknowledge is the most fertile region in the country but argue still has a low GDP due to a lack of strategic planning.
However, opponents of the plan have argued strongly that the scheme will undermine food security in the region. Unlike people in other regions, the villagers said they have not experienced food shortages during the outbreak.
Spearheading the protest is Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, the director of Chana Hospital and a social activist. He opposes the idea of turning such a fertile marine area into a barren industrial complex and forcing much of the workforce to abandon their fishing heritage for factory work.
In a May 7 Facebook post, Piti Srisangnam director of Chulalongkorn's Asean Studies Center insisted Chana's marine biodiversity must be protected, not destroyed. But the SEC will tear apart the fabric of communities, people's way of life and their rich culture.
Last year the government earned a bad name for itself as it hastily pushed for the development of its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) spanning three provinces, namely Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong. There were complaints that environmental laws and town-planning regulations were ruthlessly bypassed, and public consultation was ignored, as the then military regime made use of its special power. Now, conflicts between the industrial and the farming sector are simmering over water shortages as the state struggles to source water to service over 6,000 factories in the region.
The government and state planners must not repeat the mistakes that were made during the initiation of the EEC.
Good intentions alone are not enough. Instead, the government should be obliged to listen to local people and follow all the required procedures. Public consultation must be carried out with transparency and environmental impact assessment studies must map out the potential health and ecological costs.
Without following due procedure, there is a danger that this much-sought-after sustainable development will manifest itself only in grand prospectuses for big business and not in improvements to the lives of those who live in these areas.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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