Mekong residents file petition aimed at derailing Laos' Xayaburi dam

15 October 2014 | Bangkok Post


Residents from eight provinces along the Mekong River Wednesday filed for a court injunction to try to derail to controversial Xayaburi dam on the lower Mekong River.

Network of Thai People in the Eight Provinces of the Mekong Basin asked the Administrative Court to suspend a power-purchase agreement (PPA) signed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to buy 95% of the electricity to be generated by the hydroelectric dam that has stoked environmental and economic concern from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Villagers from eight provinces along the Mekong River protest outside the Supreme Administrative Court in June against a power-purchase agreement by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to buy 95% of the electricity from the controversial Xayaburi dam in Laos. (Bangkok Post photo)

The Supreme Administrative Court on June 24 accepted a complaint from 37 river-area villagers asking Egat to respect community rights and comply with the 1997 constitution by arranging transparent public hearings, as well as health and environmental impact assessments before signing power purchase deals.

In accepting the case, the SAC said communities have the right to protect their livelihoods, which must be balanced with economic development. The court also cited the 1995 Mekong Agreement which requires the public to be notified about projects affecting the current in the Mekong River before they can proceed. The court further invited the plaintiff to file an administrative case concerning the protection of public interest.

"Given the transboundary environmental and social risks associated with the project, all construction and further investment should be halted until the court has made a final decision," Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer and Coordinator from the Community Resource Centre, which represents the Network, said in a statement released by the Save the Mekong coalition, a group of NGOs, academics, journalists and residents on each side of the Thai-Laos border supporting the network.

The coalition claimed Egat has "grossly overestimated" the amount of electricity Thailand needs, and "has not studied potentially cheaper or greener electricity generating options."
"Without the PPA, the Xayaburi dam is not economically viable," the group said.
Concerns acknowledged by the Administrative Court in June include impacts to the environment, water quality and quantity, water flow, and ecological balance of the Mekong basin. The network claims the eight riverside provinces would feel extensive impacts to "environmental quality, public health, sanitation, livelihoods, and other community interests."

"We assert the right of communities in the Mekong to further study of the impacts, access to information and public consultation. We condemn the Thai government's breaches of these rights during the signing of the Xayaburi Dam's PPA," Dang Dinh Bach, a lawyer and director of the Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Centre in Vietnam said in the coalition statement.

"This case sets a precedent for decisions over power agreements with transboundary implications and the fundamental responsibilities to conduct meaningful consultations and transboundary impacts assessments. We expect this lawsuit to be the first of many and we call on the Administrative Court to swiftly make a decision that the Xayaburi dam's PPA is illegal."