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Minister orders opening of Rasi Salai dam gates


The Nation, July 7, 2000

SCIENCE Minister Arthit Urirat yesterday ordered the Rasi Salai Dam's water gates to be opened for two years.

Arthit gave the order to the Department of Energy Development and Promotion (DEDP), and told the department to re-survey the land held by villagers around the reservoir after the water is released.

He said the opening of the gates should solve the conflict between villagers and the DEDP, and reduce the saline levels in nearby land.

Completed in 1993, the Rasi Salai Dam was built across the Mool River in Sri Sa Ket province for irrigation purposes.

Arthit said the DEDP did not survey the land prior to the dam's construction, so it does not know where all of the villagers' effected land is exactly located, or how the land was used previously.

The DEDP paid Bt57 million to compensate 775 villagers, but more than 17,000 villagers are seeking additional compensation for land that was flooded.

The dam also has created a soil salinity problem.

A report by the Land Development Department said 21 per cent of the area irrigated by the dam faces a high risk of salinity problems, while another 21 per cent faces a medium risk.

However, many villagers have already reported salinity problems with their land.

Hundreds of villagers have protested at the dam since May, demanding that the gates be opened.

They say their land is full of salt, rendering it incapable of producing healthy crops.

Meanwhile, a neutral committee established to consider demands by the Assembly of the Poor, including those concerning the Rasi Salai and Pak Mool dams, yesterday submitted its suggestions to Interior Minister Banyat Bantadtan. The committee will meet Banyat today to discuss them.

Assembly of the Poor (ASP), a grass-roots rights group, has demanded government action on 16 dam and forestry mega-development projects that it says have hurt local residents.

The government established the neutral committee last month to review the projects. The committee's tenure expired yesterday, committee head Banthorn Ondum said.

The committee called for immediate action on urgent cases such as the Pak Mool and Rasi Salai dams, Banthorn said.

It said the Pak Mool Dam's gates should be opened during the rainy season, from May to August, to let fish swim upstream and spawn.

The committee also advised the government to open the Rasi Salai Dam to curb its impact on the environment and resolve the conflict with area residents.

The committee suggested the government study further the impact the dams have had on the environment and nearby residents while suspending construction on proposed dam projects, he said.

The committee also proposed that relevant laws be updated and amended during a time of changing environmental conditions.

As for forestry projects, Banthorn said the verification of land ownership would solve the problem.

He said the previous government's Cabinet had approved this measure and a committee was set up to implement it, but the committee did not carry out its mission for unknown reasons.

Banthorn said the solutions proposed require determination and sincerity from the government, which he said should issue Cabinet resolutions to prove its sincerity.

"There must be concrete solutions and the Interior Ministry should act as a mediator between ASP and the government," he said.


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