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No decision on dam until study finished

Chaiyaphum scheme can still be called off 

Anchalee Kongrut, Bangkok Post, October, 17,1999


Construction of Pong Khun Phet dam in Chaiyaphum will not start until the government's fact-finding committee has completed its inquiry, Deputy Agriculture Minister Anurak Jureemas said.

The committee's findings will be considered before a decision is made whether to proceed or not, even though the cabinet gave the green light last month.

The Irrigation Department had signed a contract with a construction company, but it was still possible to scrap the scheme because no permit had yet been issued, Mr Anurak said during a roundtable discussion at the Reporters' Association of Thailand.

The fact-finding committee was set up in 1997 by cabinet resolution during the Banharn Silpa-archa administration, following a protest by the Forum of the Poor, to study the impact of four dams: Pong Khun Phet, Lam Dom Yai in Ubon Ratchathani, Rap Lo in Chumphon and Kaeng Sua Ten in Phrae.

Mr Anurak infuriated the villagers in June when he proposed that the cabinet review the resolution. The Forum of the Poor has complained that there were attempts to circumvent the cabinet resolution and obtain a construction permit even though the committee had not completed its task.

Forum adviser Wanida Tantiwittayapitak said threats had been made against opponents of the dam. One leading critic was shot and killed by police three years ago, allegedly for possession of marijuana, she said.

Committee chairman Voravidh Charoenloet, of Chulalongkorn University, said the study would be completed in about five months.

The 200-million-baht dam was first designed to hold more than 100 million cubic metres of water. The Irrigation Department later scaled its capacity down to 90 million cu/m to bypass the need for an environmental impact assessment study.

Meanwhile, a group of villagers who have been staging a live-in protest in the reservoir of the Rasi Salai dam in Si Sa Ket are being forced to vacate the site by rising water after the authorities closed all flood gates.

About 1,850 households have since early August settled on the bank of the reservoir, forming a village, to demand compensation for their land which they said had been flooded by the dam.

This followed their failed marathon protest in Bangkok, where they stayed by Government House for six months.

The Energy Development and Promotion Department built Rasi Salai dam across the Moon river in 1993 without conducting an environmental impact assessment study. Only a small number of villagers were paid compensation.

Thousands of villagers have since been demanding compensation without much success.

Earlier this month, the dam authorities began to close the flood gates, forcing the water level up from 114.7m above mean sea level to 117m.

A statement released on Friday said the water had now damaged 80% of the villagers' crops. The entire make-shift village would be submerged if the water rose another 50cm, the statement said.


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