Rifts within the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry over a proposed ban on three toxic farm herbicides are deepening amid claims the minister urged his staff to restrict the use of paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, instead of banning them completely.
Minister Chalermchai Sri-on is under fire after a letter showed he told the Department of Agriculture on Sept 17 to follow the National Hazardous Substances Committee (NHSC)'s decision to restrict the use of the popular farm chemicals, deepening a row over the future of the chemicals which has paralysed decision-makers for two years.
This comes after his deputy Mananya Thaiset as well as Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul many times promised a ban would take place soon.
Under questioning by Pheu Thai MP Chavalit Vichayasuthi, chairman of the House committee on toxic farm chemical controls, Mr Chalermchai insisted on Wednesday the ministry is ready to ban the chemicals but it is the NHSC which has the final call.
"I'm ready to enforce the ban if it's agreed," Mr Chalermchai said.
Despite tremendous support for the ban from health specialists and academics, the NHSC is still is not convinced about the need to ban the herbicides.
However, Ms Mananya said a joint committee formed to find alternatives to the chemicals will meet next Monday, and report the findings to the agriculture minister and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha before forwarding them to the NHSC.
Meanwhile, Mr Chavalit said on Wednesday the House committee is looking forward to hearing opinions from ministers from four key ministries over the proposed ban.
They have been invited to give information to the panel at its next meeting, he said.
The ministries are the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Public Health.
Ms Mananya said she has faced threats because of her stand on the issue, as Mr Chavalit disclosed that two key advocates of the ban also have found themselves the subject of death threats, harassment and lawsuits.
Thiravat Hemachudha, a neurology professor at Chulalongkorn Hospital and a vocal campaigner against the use of the three farm chemicals, confirmed on Wednesday that he and Puangrat Kajitvichyanukul, a researcher at Naresuan University, have been intimidated over their support for the ban.
Earlier this year, the pair resigned from another committee on toxic farm chemical controls set up by the previous administration amid reports it was subject to interference by big businesses in the farm chemical sector.
Dr Thiravat said besides abusive remarks made over the phone, a Facebook user replied to his post about toxic herbicides with threats, warning he had been "marked", while others demanded Chulalongkorn University and Chulalongkorn Hospital investigate him and review the information he shared about the dangers of the herbicides.
As for Ms Puangrat, Dr Thiravat said the academic was followed and bullied at an airport on her way to a meeting about the chemicals, with the result she had to change flights.
Dr Thiravat said many people have demanded the university's management fire her while others have made various attempts to have her research grant revoked, as the campaign of harassment continues.
"Such behaviour is unacceptable. There is a campaign under way trying to undermine the credibility of our research," he said.
"People don't have to believe us, but they should take a look at herbicide-related deaths and illnesses before rushing to make a decision."