The government representatives met the protesters to inform them about the Cabinet resolution. Credit: ติดตามแผนพัฒนาสงขลา-สตูล FB Page

Cabinet gives green light to SEA for Chana industrial city project to end stand-off

Chana protesters have declared a victory and called for an end of their week-long protest to demand for the SEA for the Chana industrial city project as the Cabinet has approved the proceeding of the SEA for it and put on hold all the ongoing work including the controversial public hearings

The Cabinet during the weekly meeting yesterday instructed the Office of National Social and Economic Development Board (NESDB) and other concern agencies to conduct the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Chana industrial city project which has been opposed by Chana residents since the beginning for fears that it would jeopardise their livelihoods and the environment around their communities in Chana district in Songkhla province.

The Cabinet also acknowledged their latest demands that the project and other related work be suspended and the SEA be conducted to provide all stakeholders economic options which are more equitable and balanced. It also instructed concerned agencies to wait for the SEA results, literally putting the project on hold until the SEA is completed.

The protesters also demanded an exclusion of the government-appointed strategic committee on the Southern Border Provinces development in the SEA process, which was first proposed by the government. It oversees the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), which pushes for the project.

The government representatives could not confirm the status of the committee in the process, but the Cabinet document did not address anything in regard to it either.

The protesters, meanwhile, called the latest Cabinet resolution a victory before packing their stuff and heading back home this early morning.

The support at home. Credit: ติดตามแผนพัฒนาสงขลา-สตูล FB Page/ Warasiri Kotcharat

The tedious fight

This is the second time that Chana residents and their supporters, including the young leader of the community, Khairiyah Rahmanyah, gathered in front of the Government House in protest of the project and to demand for the SEA promised to them by the government since last year’s gathering.

Instead of proceeding with the SEA and halting the project as promised under the MOU signed by the government representatives and reported to the Cabinet, the public hearings for the project were rescheduled during December 13-23, 2021, prompting anger and fears among the residents, who then vowed to travel to Bangkok to demand the government fulfil its last year’s promise.

Some 37 of them were then arrested for illegal gathering in front of Government House shortly after their arrival on last Tuesday night, the incident that further stirred a fury, which later drew widened support from a large number of networks nationwide that helped them manage to put pressure on the government and meet their demands.

The Chana industrial city project or the Progressive Industry for the Future model city of Chana is an extension of the “Triangle of Security, Prosperity, and Sustainability” model city project first proposed to the Cabinet by the Office of National Social and Economic Development Board in 2016, according to the SBPAC.

As reported in the Cabinet resolution database, the project was first aimed at “developing some areas in Southern provinces to become “special economic areas” with prime investments from private sector. This was ultimately aimed at “creating jobs, raising income, and lifting up the quality of life of the local residents in the areas and nearby”. 

The project was set to run from 2017 to 2020. It picked Pattani’s Nong Jik district, Narathiwat’s Su-ngai Kolok district, and Yala’s Betong district for the pilot projects.

In mid-2019, however, the SBPAC proposed the Cabinet to “agree in principle” the extension of the project to Songkhla’s Chana district with the idea to develop it into the “Progressive Industry for the Future” model city, being the fourth model city under the project.

And on January 21 last year, the Cabinet resolved to acknowledge the resolution by the Southern Border Provinces Development Strategic Committee issued on October 31 last year, which had endorsed the designation of Chana district as the “Special Development Zone”, paving the way for the development of the model city.

According to the project’s feasibility study, reasons are given to support the development of the project. The study notes that Songkhla’s industrial activities largely involve value-added farming for export such as rubber processing and seafood processing, which account for around 44% of the province’s GDP, and 19.5%, respectively.

The province has two prime industrial estates. The first was built over 30 years ago in the area around 2,200 rai to support a conglomerate of factories. The second is the Rubber City developed in the area around 1,200 rai to support rubber processing.

However, there have not been any large industrial projects in Chana to take a large number of labours in the area, the study points. The district also connects to the other three southernmost provinces and has a coastal landscape suitable for deep-sea port development, suggesting its industrial development potential, it further points.

So, the study suggests the development of Chana into the new “industrial estate” in the privately owned plot of land sized no less than 13,000 rai (in three Tambons of Nathap, Sakom, and Taling Chan). It is set to serve five prime industries; be they farm produce and seafood processing, full-fledged logistics, tourism and services, renewable-based electricity generation, and the so-called “Technology for the Future” development; from biotechnological products to modern transportation and telecommunication products and parts. It is expected to create no less than 100,000 jobs.

The local residents, however, are not convinced. They began to publicly stage a protest in the area against the first public hearing of the project planned in last May, before extending it to Bangkok with the reasons that it would jeopardize their self-reliant livelihoods, which are largely based on the marine fishery, fuming pollutions from its industrial activities, which would, in turn, damage their marine resources. 

More critically, the development of the project is not based on the area’s true potential (fishery and seafood processing), and lacks public participation in the first place. This is not to mention that a number of procedures have breached environmental laws as well as the Constitution itself, the residents said.

Read Chana’s story @Khairiyah’s letters: Chana’s story between the lines