The right of citizens and communities to protect the environment against harmful development projects is now back in the draft constitution, thanks to fierce pressure by civil society nationwide. So people can relax now, right? Not a chance.
Face it. The military regime is in it for the long haul. Their diktats are the ultimate rules of the land. The community rights clause in the draft will be of no help because it has also been heavily diluted, turning active citizens and communities into state vassals.
Since the beginning of this year, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has issued a series of orders under the special powers of Section 44 in the interim charter to eliminate legal obstruction and fast-track mega projects. First it was an order to bypass land-zoning laws to speed up the government’s project to create special economic zones in 10 border provinces, which also faces fierce opposition from locals. That was in January.
Then followed the diktat in March allowing state utilities programmes to go ahead and hire contractors even when their environment and health impact assessments have not been completed. Benefitting from this order are 20 public railroads, 17 highways, eight expressways, eight dams and reservoirs, five state hospitals, two ports and two airports.
Grassroots and civic groups cried foul. But who cares? On March 30, the junta issued its latest order to expand the scope and number of energy projects that can bypass land-zoning laws. The powerful power-generating authority Egat will be the main beneficiary. The order facilitates nearly 30 megaprojects including Egat’s hydroelectric dams in forests and coal-fired power plants in green areas.
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