A court in Thailand has sought more documents from activists who have filed a suit to stop their government from purchasing electricity from the controversial Xayaburi hydropower project under construction in neighboring Laos, a lawyer for the group said Tuesday.
The activists plan to submit the new evidence to the court by the end of September, their lawyer identified only as Pholka said, adding that the court needs the additional documents before it can agree to hear the case.
“As of now, the court just wants us to send additional documents,” she said, three weeks after the lawsuit was filed in Bangkok in an attempt to block a Thai government power company from purchasing power generated by the controversial Mekong River dam.
The group of 30 villagers representing communities in Thailand’s eight provinces along the Mekong River filed the suit against the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the Thai Cabinet, and three other state entities at the Administrative Court in Bangkok on Aug. 7.
They are arguing that the Thai government should not have allowed EGAT to sign an agreement with Laos’s Xayaburi Power Co. for purchasing electricity from the 1,260-megawatt dam before assessing the dam's environmental impact.
Under an agreement made in October, EGAT will buy from Laos 95 percent of the electricity generated by the dam, which is on track to be the first across the main stem of the Lower Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s key artery.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s office has said that it will await the court’s decision on proceeding with the case before it responds to demands the country not purchase power from the dam, Pholka said.
“We have a response from the prime minister’s office that they have received the documents. But before anything else, the court has to agree to hear the case.”
Environmental groups in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam –including the Thai People’s Network in Eight Mekong Provinces group that organized the lawsuit—have staged protests against the Xayaburi dam, saying it is likely to damage the Mekong ecosystem, fisheries, and food security of the people downstream.
Laos says it has suspended the dam in response to calls to wait for further impact assessments, but it has allowed the developer Ch. Karnchang, a Thai company, to begin initial construction on the project.
Earlier this month, Plew Trivisvavet, Ch. Karnchang’s chief executive officer, said the company had never received instructions from the Lao government to suspend the project.
"We are still working on the project. We haven't received a formal letter from the Lao government that we should suspend or put the project on hold," he told reporters in Bangkok.
The company expects to begin building the dam’s reservoir this year, he said.
Laos, which has said it hopes to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” by building dozens of hydropower dams on its rivers, has come under fire for moving ahead with the project despite calls from neighboring countries to wait until further assessment of the dam’s environmental impact.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.