THE fallout of Wednesday's court judgment halting 65 industrial projects in their tracks on environmental grounds in Rayong's Map Ta Phut industrial estate, continues to rumble.
Mr Thanit Sorat, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, today complained that the judgment had destroyed the confidence of investors.
"The investment damage, equivalent to about 45 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, is huge as some of the projects had recruited staff and workers and were about to start operation," he was quoted as saying.
The figure may be somewhat exaggerated. Thailand's gross domestic product is over US$600 billion (S$827 billion). Mr Thanit reportedly said damage to investment would amount to 90-100 billion Baht.
And the court may not fully agree with Mr Thanit's point of view either. An excerpt from Wednesday's verdict read: "There is no excuse for investors and heavy industries not to take into account the health and environmental impacts of their investments."
The hyperbole from government and corporate circles is all because of a group of local citizens who first became concerned over heavy industry moving into their backyards — and then angry when their concerns were ignored and health problems proliferated among them.
Map Ta Phut residents outside the courthouse: "Victory for the people!" PHOTO: Nirmal Ghosh
And it also because of one man in particular, 42-year-old lawyer Srisuwan Janya. A native of Phitsanulok who got interested in Map Ta Phut 10 years ago, he made well over 50 trips to the area, befriended many locals, and finally filed a court case in 2007 which has now sent tremors up the spine of Thai industry.
Mr Srisuwan is fighting the case free of charge, with the support of the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
Lawyer Srisuwan Janya : "The whole country will have to change." PHOTO: Nirmal Ghosh
Minutes after the court judgment on Wednesday, shares of the giant PTT, PTT Chemical and Siam Cement — heavy hitters of Thai industry — fell.
Soon after, I met up with some Map Ta Phut residents on the steps of the Supreme Administrative Court, who were in a jubilant mood.
"It is a victory for the people," exulted Mr Charoen Detkum, one of the activists who helped put together the case.
Inside the court's cafeteria, I met up with Mr Srisuwan, who was in an ebullient mood. He had received death threats on the phone ever since beginning work on Map Ta Phut in earnest in 2007, he said, but had shrugged them off.
And he is not going to stop at Map Ta Phut. "The whole country will have to change," he said. "From now on, industry will have to worry about the environment and take care of the people. The government will have to also be much stricter about this."
He is now investigating as many as 181 more projects all over the country, for violations of a clause in the constitution which stipulates that industries must consult with local people and address environmental and health concerns before setting up plants.
Most of the 181 are petrochemical, steel, plastics, paper and cement plants, he said.
Mr Janya is also prepared to fight Thailand’s plans for nuclear power plants, which he says will "never be accepted".
The government has formed a committee chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun to study the Map Ta Phut case and prescribe solutions. Deputy prime minister Korsak Sabhavasu is on the committee and has already made several trips to the area.
Mr Korbsak is a regular on Twitter. During one trip, he tweeted a picture of himself surveying a huge refuse dump at Map Ta Phut.
This was the result of "15 years of doing nothing", he tweeted.
Map Ta Phut landscape: No more free rides for heavy industry. PHOTO: Nirmal Ghosh