Activists fume over plan to use Article 44 for dam

ENVIRONMENTAL groups have strongly opposed a plan by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to seek invocation of special powers under Article 44 of the post-coup interim charter to commence construction of the controversial Mae Wong dam in Nakhon Sawan province.

In a statement released by the 19 organisations yesterday, they said Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister General Chatchai Sarikulya wanted to implement a project that was against the government's reforestation campaign.

They also said the project was not in line with the water management plan suggested by the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation and the efforts by late environmentalist hero Seub to protect the forests.

Chatchai remarked on Friday that he would consider asking Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to use the ultimate power afforded him under Article 44 to make it easier to implement the project.

He said the move may be needed because it was hard to implement new water-management projects and farmers in Nakhon Sawan needed water.

Prime Minister Prayut, in his capacity as head of the National Council for Peace and Order, has the power to invoke Article 44 on behalf of the ruling junta.

The environmental group said the project would affect a large area of pristine forest in the Mae Wong National Park and conflict with Seub's push to protect the Western Forest Complex.

"The water levels in the nearby Tab Salao and Klong Po damd are low and indicate that this is a rain-shadow area, so constructing another dam will not solve the water shortage problem," the groups said.

"Using Article 44 for this issue will set a precedent for other environmentally harmful projects to similarly use the special power for implementation," the groups said.

Sasin Chalermlarp, president of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation and a prominent opponent of the Mae Wong dam, said in a Facebook post that he was ready to enlighten Chatchai on the project's shortcomings or he may march again in protest.

In 2013, Sasin marched from Nakhon Sawan to Bangkok to protest against plans to construct the dam, resulting in the project being shelved.

"I am not surprised that the minister has such an idea, because he only listened to one side [of the debate], the Royal Irrigation Department [RID], which has always pushed for this project. I am trying to reach him and give him the other point of view, but he has not bothered to hear me," the prominent activist said.

RID director-general Suthep Noipairoj said it was necessary to build the dam because Thailand did not have enough water.

"We are a seasonal country which has only around 100 days of rain [a year], so we have to build more water storage [facilities] to keep water for the rest of the year," Suthep said.

"Moreover, the site of the Mae Wong dam is perfect for building another dam because this river still does not have a major reservoir. Building this dam will benefit a lot of farmers in the area, who are currently relying only on natural precipitation."

He added that every development would have some negative side effects, but the country had to choose projects that had more positives than negatives and that applied to the Mae Wong dam.