Heavy haze covered Chiang Mai early this month. Credit: ACAir CMU

NEB to appeal against declaration of pollution control zone for tackling haze in the North

Economic and tourism impacts are cited as the main reason to appeal against the fresh court ruling, which has ordered the NEB to declare the zone over four northern provinces including Chiang Mai, hit hard by the PM 2.5 haze, to provide them with concrete solutions

Natural Resources and Environment Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Jatuporn Buruspat has revealed that the NEB has assigned the Pollution Control Department (PCD) under the ministry’s supervision to appeal against the ruling made by Chiang Mai Administrative Court late last week. The deadline given is May 8.

The court took a complaint filed by a Chiang Mai local immediately for deliberation after receiving it in mid-last month. It ruled on Friday in favor of his complaint by ordering the NEB to declare Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son hit hard by haze over the past few years as a pollution control zone. This is in line with Article 59 of the environmental quality promotion and protection act.

This, the court said, would pave the way for a more integrated approach in tackling the haze, which is critically harmful to people’s health in the areas. It found that the provinces during 2018 to this year ever endured up to 31 days of PM 2.5 haze beyond the standard, which sets at 50 micrograms per cubic meter, and in some days, the concentration of the fine dust was up to 3 or 4 times of the standard.

The new work approach would allow more systematic and integrated planning and work among concerned agencies, including that from local organisations, which it said know the areas and the problem well, the court said.

“Although authorities at a province level as well as environmental management executives have realized how critical the problem is and attempted to solve the problem, but the haze still remains severe.

“…By arguing that the problem is not yet critically harmful to people’s heath and it can be solved without a declaration of a pollution control zone, this is not in line with the growing problem, and does not make sense. It is equivalent to unlawful discretion,” the court stated.

The appeal

Mr. Jatuporn said the ministry, as an arm of the board, has learned about the ruling and respected it, but it needed to proceed with an appeal because the issue (a pollution control zone declaration) is sensitive to tourism and economy in the areas. In addition, the ministry viewed that the authority to declare such a zone is already with the NEB to use judgement as authorized by the law.

 Mr. Jatuporn said the ministry this year has been instructed by PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the NEB’s chair, to solve the haze problem in the North.

Through the work it has done in the area so far, it has managed to cut down the number of hotspots beyond the target set, which is over 50% lower than the number of hotspots reported last year. However, the haze has also come from hotspots in neighbouring countries, he claimed.

The ministry has instructed the PCD to request more of regional cooperation through ASEAN’s mechanisms, Mr. Jauporn said.

The moves by the ministry and the NEB, however, have been questioned by local think-tank groups including the Chiang Mai Breathe Council.

Chatchawan Thongdeelert, the council’s chairman questioned on his FB account why the bodies would appeal against the court ruling if this would help boost more effective and integrated work among concerned agencies.

 He said the work this year was still much immediate, and this could not help tackle the haze, which has been chronic and become unbearable among the residents.

“Are you afraid of losing faces (for not being able to solve the problem? In fact, should you not do any thing that can help solve the problem for people?” asked Mr. Chatchawan, who encouraged more of local participation in tackling the problem.

“It should be the time to solve the problem by changing the mindset and stopping enforcing state authority with the belief that it can help tackle everything while pushing people to the opposite site. More public participation must be encouraged to boost cooperation among all concerned,” said Mr. Chatchawan.