Legal battle brews: Northern Thai communities challenge Yuam Water Diversion Project
Amid mounting concerns over the credibility of Environmental Impact Assessments in Thailand, a coalition of communities in four northern river basins has filed a lawsuit against the massive Yuam water diversion project.
CHIANG MAI – A network of communities residing in four river basins in northern Thailand has filed a lawsuit against the state for the 70-billion baht ($2.1 million) Yuam River diversion project.
The lawsuit, filed by 66 local residents and spearheaded by lawyers from the Community Resources Center (CRC), targets five authorities responsible for the project, including the Royal Irrigation Project and the Cabinet.
The “Yuam-Ngao-Moei-Salaween People” network contends that the water diversion project,
designed to redirect water from the northern river basin to support agricultural areas and replenish Tak province’s Bhumibol Reservoir, poses a grave threat to the preserved forest area. This project would mark the first instance of damming this tributary of the Salween, one of Southeast Asia’s few remaining free-flowing rivers.
EIA report criticised
The group also underscores that the approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a prerequisite for such large-scale development projects, significantly underestimates the consequences. The 2022 report, approved by the National Board of Environment, shockingly claimed that only 29 households would be affected.
Criticism has been widespread among the communities. According to the network, some community members were unwittingly photographed at informal dinners and received donations from project staff as a way to secure project approval.
“I’m deeply dismayed to see my photo being used inappropriately. They [the project staff] simply offered me some donations and asked for a selfie. Yet, they used the photo in the EIA. How could such manipulation gain approval?” said Daoprasuk Meepoi, a resident of Mae Hong Son.
The network is demanding the immediate cancellation of the EIA report and the acclaimed previous public hearing events. Additionally, they are urgently calling for the suspension of the water diversion project.
Controversial water diversion projects
The Yuam water diversion project is not an isolated case of communities in Thailand resorting to legal action against the environmental impact assessment process. Just a week earlier, communities in Saraburi province submitted a lawsuit to the administrative court for similar reasons concerning a planned waste-to-energy plant.
“In recent decades, we have witnessed an increasing number of lawsuits filed by human rights defenders against government authorities,” commented Asst. Prof. Darunee Paisanpanichkul from the Faculty of Law at Chiang Mai University, as outlined in the recent human rights report released by UNDP. “Many of these lawsuits challenge the EIA process.”
Read more about this controversial water diversion project here