Updated: June 24, 2014 08:53 PM GMT
A fisherman checks his nets on the Mekong River in Siphandone, southern Laos (picture by International Rivers)
The Supreme Administrative Court of Thailand said today it will accept a lawsuit against the Xayaburi dam in Laos, ruling that further study was needed to examine the project's potential environmental impact.
The court also dismissed a component of the lawsuit that sought to cancel a purchasing agreement between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the dam’s operators. EGAT is set to buy 95 percent of the power generated by the dam.
But the court said that EGAT had failed to properly notify the public about the transaction and cited the lack of an adequate environmental impact assessment as the reason for allowing the lawsuit to move forward. The omissions were a violation of the Thai Constitution, the court ruled in its 29-page decision.
The Xayaburi dam would be the first dam to be built along the lower Mekong River.
A group of about 40 Thai famers and fishermen from the Mekong region, who were plaintiffs in the case, were jubilant as they left the courtroom, but said more work was needed in their struggle to halt constrction of the dam.
"We have to stop this dam. If it continues, our livelihoods will be destroyed," said Nichol Poljan, a rice farmer from Bung Khka district in northeastern Bueng Kan province.
Poljan told ucanews.com that he wants his village to avoid a similar experience of those affected by the Pak Mun dam in Ubon Ratchatani province. Fish stocks decreased by about 80 percent after that dam's completion in 1994.
"It's not a victory, but it's giving us hope. We're grateful that the court has given us a chance to make our case," said Saranarat Oy Kanjanavanit, secretary general of the Green World Foundation, a Thai environmental organization.
Kanjanavanit said the dam would have a "devastating, far reaching impact" on millions of people who depend on the Mekong River for their survival throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Among the potential environmental catastrophes, the dam's plans do not provide adequate pathways for migrating fish, Kanjanavanit said. In Cambodia, for example, eight of 10 fish species lay eggs in the flood plains of the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater body of water.
"If the Tonle Sap doesn’t flood, the fish can't lay eggs," she told ucanews.com.
More than 600 species of fish are threatened, she added.
Cambodia and Vietnam have also raised concerns about the Xayaburi dam and its impact on the region.
In May, the Cambodia Senate sent a letter to Mekong leaders calling on Thailand to cancel the purchasing agreement with the dam's operators.
The letter said that the Xayaburi dam "constitutes the greatest trans-boundary threat to date to food security, sustainable development and regional cooperation in the lower Mekong River".
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said: "It's clear that the signing of [the] Xayaburi Dam's power purchase agreement most likely violated the constitutional rights of Thai people, as well as the prior consultation procedures of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, as no trans-boundary impact assessment was carried out nor was them adequate consultation."
"We hope that the court will now suspend the power purchase agreement and call for a halt to the dam's construction, in order for the environmental and health impact assessments to be carried out," she said. "Thai banks should also cancel any further loans to the project, as the lawsuit clearly makes further investment questionable and opens them up to great reputational risk."