Court takes Xayaburi dam case

Court takes Xayaburi dam case

The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) has accepted a case against Thai government agencies that purchased power from the Xayaburi dam in Laos.

Environmental activists and villagers from provinces on the bank of the Mekong River gather to protest outside the Supreme Administrative Court yesterday. Tawatchai Kemgumnerd

The complaint, launched by 37 villagers who live along the Mekong River, accuses the agencies of not complying with constitutional requirements before signing an agreement to purchase power from the Xayaburi dam.

Villagers from eight provinces turned up at the court to hear the SAC's decision to overturn a ruling by the Administrative Court, which dismissed their complaint in 2011.

In August 2011, 37 villagers launched an official complaint against Egat, the National Energy Policy Council (NEPC), the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR), the Energy Ministry (EM) and the cabinet at that time.

But the Administrative Court decided the villagers could not be considered "an involved party" in the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and Xayaburi Power Company Limited.

The villagers turned to the SAC, asking it to issue three orders to the defendants. The first order was to withdraw the 2010 NEPC and cabinet resolution that allowed Egat to purchase power from the Xayaburi Power Company.

The villagers' second order asked to revoke the PPA signed in 2011 for failing to comply with the cabinet resolution concerning public information and the Mekong Agreement.

The third order asked defendants to respect community rights and comply with the constitution by arranging transparent public hearings, as well as health and environmental impact assessments before signing power purchase deals.

Villagers said information about the dam and the PPA was incomplete and not widely publicised among locals who stood to be affected by construction of the dam, although four public hearings were arranged in 2011.

The SAC dismissed the villagers' first two demands but agreed with the third. It said communities have the right to protect their livelihoods, which must be balanced with economic development. The court also cited the 1995 Mekong Agreement which requires the public to be notified about projects affecting the current in the Mekong River before they can proceed.

The SAC accepted the complaint under section 52 of the Act on the Establishment of Administrative Courts, saying an administrative case concerning the protection of public interest may be filed at any time.

"We’re satisfied with the court’s decision," said Ms Ormbun Thipsuna, one of the 37 villagers who filed the lawsuit. “This means the court gives us the rights to protect our communities."

Sor Rattanamanee Polka, a lawyer for the villagers, also expressed her satisfaction with the court’s decision. “The court cited the Mekong Agreement in its decision. This gives us hope that we can protect our livelihood even though the Xayaburi dam project is in Laos,” she said.

She believes the power purchase contract can be revoked if the court’s inquiry process found it to be unlawful. The SAC's ruling means that further environmental impact studies into the dam project will need to be undertaken.

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