Map Ta Phut just the start
While industrial captains whine and the government struggles to keep up, events on the ground have exposed the real crisis at Map Ta Phut. Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun was only being realistic when he told senior business interests how poorly they had failed in their civic responsibility. As fate would have it, there was another serious industrial accident at the industrial zone. At least 28 people were stricken, five of them seriously, when they inhaled butene-1 gas that leaked from a tanker.
The pertinent warning from Mr Anand and yet another serious accident give indirect but strong support to the two recent court verdicts. The rulings by the Administrative Court and its parent Supreme Administrative Court have effectively put industry on notice that if businesses don't clean up their act - literally - they can be shut down in the interests of the entire country. Mr Anand's criticism, if anything, is even stronger. He represents the current last chance for businesses along the Eastern Seaboard to win permission to resume 65 industrial projects which are under injunction by the court.
It is surprising to many that the Map Ta Phut area has gone from smokestack to endangered in a little more than two months. The decision by the
On the other hand, Rayong activist Srisuwan Chanya and his Anti-Global Warming Association are almost cocky about their court victories. Mr Srisuwan and allies intend to continue to press in the courts to restrict industrial development, in the name of several causes: pollution, conservation, climate change and downright danger to various communities. Section 67 of the Constitution effectively makes industry responsible for the health and welfare of surrounding villages and the environment, and that will be the weapon wielded by Mr Srisuwan and allies.
One must hope that sooner rather than later, reality will intrude on business interests. The days of unbridled industrial development have clearly ended. Mr Abhisit and his ministers remain firmly fixed on the side of business, because if Map Ta Phut and other areas are shuttered, the chances that the economy will grow are close to nil. What the government is missing, and Mr Anand understands clearly, is that the day has arrived when business, government and local residents must cooperate on responsible industrial projects that help the community and nation, without harming local people.
The government has acted unwisely from the start. While the bureaucracy is duty-bound to pursue court action on the side against the activists, the prime minister is not. He should in fact, like Mr Anand, be counselling business interests to take their community responsibility more seriously, that businesses have to act if they hope to salvage public trust and their own companies' images.
The day that industry can pollute communities and ride roughshod over villagers is happily over. Business will become responsible voluntarily, or the courts will rightly force it, even at the cost of short-term projects shuttered for the common good.