Big trouble in little Chana

Big trouble in little Chana

A quick look at the cabinet resolution on plans for the controversial Chana industrial complex in Songkhla province could lead many to believe that the government pays heed to local concerns and is taking a step back. Unfortunately, the chances are high that this would be an extremely naive, or optimistic, interpretation.

Some observers said yesterday's resolution, which saw the plan to change the area from an agricultural to an industrial zone suspended ahead of a review by a new joint panel tasked with studying the impact of the 18-billion-baht project that stretches over 17,600 rai of land, was just a way to buy time.

Indeed, the resolution is but a token gesture when set against residents' demands for the cabinet to rescind its Jan 21 approval of the project and halt the ongoing environmental impact assessment (EIA) and town plan modification process. The villagers also called for participatory strategic impact assessments to map out an appropriate development strategy for Chana. Local groups insist they have their own sustainable development model, which includes utilising state assistance to establish the town as a seafood processing hub.

Opponents, including Dr Supat Hasuwannakit, director of Chana Hospital, insisted that the government must go back to the drawing board and revoke its earlier green light.

Upon learning of the resolution, the resident action group agreed to end the protest and return to their hometown, but vowed to fight on if the promised review fails to result in a rethink.

They said the industrial complex which will include deep-sea ports will ruin the local way of life in the town's small-scale Muslim fishing community which was able to rely on the abundant local marine ecosystem for income even at the height of restrictions imposed when the threat of Covid-19 emerged in the country.

The activists are also challenging the project's legitimacy and allege that the consideration process was tainted from the very beginning.

Official endorsement of the project came just before the military regime was dissolved and suspicions have also been raised as to why the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) pushed so hard for the contentious project to go ahead.

It is alleged that the SBPAC deliberately scheduled public consultations to coincide with the lockdown so they would have to be postponed, while those that were eventually held later saw key opponents barred from participating, which enabled land purchases for key sites to proceed without scrutiny.

Deputy Agriculture Thamanat Prompow, who brokered negotiations between state agencies and residents, conceded that the plan for the industrial complex has not been withdrawn, but will be considered by the new panel which he promised would be composed of representatives from both camps.

However, yesterday's resolution is not all doom and gloom as it gives a role to the People's Movement for a Just Society (P-Move) which has experience in levelling the playing field for community groups attempting to take on powerful public and private organisations, and comes equipped with a conflict resolution mechanism that the panel will adopt.

P-Move will be responsible for mediating the dialogue between the locals and relevant agencies before overseeing the formulation of a way forward that is acceptable for all to be forwarded to the cabinet.

There is certainly a long journey ahead before this dispute is resolved but any development without local participation will only be destined to fail.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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