[Update-1] Netizens take up local-led protest against plans for industrial park in Songkhla

[Update-1] Tuesday Cabinet meeting

Following the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the government spokesperson officially announced that a Board of Committee would be established to oversee the Chana Industrial Park Project, led by minister Thamanat Prompow and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

However, signs of whether or not the project will be cancelled remains unclear and undisclosed.

“There isn’t necessarily a pause to the project per say, they [the government] have just set up a board of committee to oversee the project and provide space for the people of Chana to participate, but the project will still continue,” Bencha told Thai Enquirer on Tuesday following the Cabinet meeting. “The only thing they will be putting on hold is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on January 6, where they intended to draft a new city plan [for Chana].”

The protesters – villagers and women of Chana — as of Tuesday afternoon, have begun to head home to Songkhla. They remain positive and hopeful that although their demands haven’t been met, there is some process.

“They are happy that the date of the EIA have been moved,” said Bencha. “But it hasn’t been cancelled. This does not guarantee any confidenc eamong the locals.”

Bencha said that although the villagers have gone home, they vow to continue on with the fight.

The hashtags #SaveChana and #Saveจะนะ (Save Chana) trended on Thai Twitter on Monday and Tuesday as netizens came together to raise awareness and criticize the controversial, government-backed industrial project set to be built in the Chana District of Songkhla Province.

Over the past week, hundreds of locals from the Chana District of Songkhla have travelled thousands of kilometers to the Government House in Bangkok to protest against the project.

The Chana Project, if put in place, will drive thousands of locals out of their homes, jobs, as well as destroy the environment, sea, and natural ecosystem of Songkhla, according to the protesters.

Locals from Chana, as of December 2020, have two demands for the government:

  1. The Chana District prototype project must be cancelled along with other related activities such as the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and changes to the city plan, as it is an illegitimate use of the law by the previous junta-backed government.
  2. After the cancellation, the government must establish an official and effective Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to perform quality academic data on future developments in the south.

Many environmental organizations and activists, such as Greenpeace Thailand, politicians, citizens and academics have taken to social media to express their solidarity and concerns over the controversial project.

The movement has inspired the now trending hashtags, with #SaveChana on 87k Tweets and #Saveจะนะ on 74k on Monday afternoon.

About the Chana Project

The Cabinet under Prayut Chan-Ocha’s government approved the project in May 2019 an industrial project aimed to turn fishing villages located in Chana District of Songkhla Province, consisting of 16,753 rai of land, into an industrial park.

The project would be built across three subdistrics, Natub, Sakom, and Thaling Chan and will have a budget of over 18 billion baht.

Villagers, locals, and fishermen from Chana district have for the past year and a half called for the government to halt the project, which they said would highly affect their livelihoods and the environment, and provide a space for discussion and negotiations.

“Locals in the area were not made aware of the positive and negative impacts of the project prior to this decision,” said Bencha Saengchantra, an MP from the Move Forward Party and an advisor of Thailand’s Department of Lands and Environmental Quality Promotion. “The government pushed this project forward without listening to the voices of the people.”

“The locals have had enough and have decided to come up to Bangkok to protest against the project,” Bencha told Thai Enquirer.

The Move Forward Party MP has, for the past year, been following the trajectory of the Chana Project, along with many activists, advisors, and relevant organizations. She has also travelled down south to oversee the areas and speak with locals directly impacted by the plan.

Bencha previously disclosed to Thai Enquirer back in October that despite the government’s efforts in trying to set up a stage or board of committee to “listen to the people,” they were mostly counterproductive.

“It wasn’t a stage to rub fung (listen), but more of a stage to reeb fung (quickly hear),” Bencha told Thai Enquirer back in October. “Which in reality did not heed to the voices and needs of the people at all, neither did it include the participation of the locals.”

“The project has continued, and the discussion space has caused more conflict between the two opposing sides rather than solutions,” Bencha said.

On Monday morning, Thamanat Prompow, a Deputy Minister of the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry went to speak with the protesters and promised to set up a board of committee to talk about the conflict and interests of the villages. 

However, the discussion has only led to more gift-giving and money lending. The minister did not clarify whether or not the project will be cancelled or revised.

“The locals, who are directly affected by this project, have never been a part of the discussion, and they are very scared that that will happen again,” Bencha explained.

The villagers currently protesting in front of the Government House on Monday vowed to stay put as long as the project continues.

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