Thailand — Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will impose penalties on nine governors of upper northern provinces if they do not take action to control forest fires in their areas.
The move comes after the nine provinces were blanketed by haze from agricultural and forest fires.
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) reported the atmospheric levels of fine-particle dust, or PM 10, were unsafe in all nine provinces.
The smog situation in the North has prompted the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Interior Ministry to summon the governors for an urgent meeting at Chiang Mai’s provincial hall to seek a resolution to the fires causing the haze.
“The prime minister has expressed her concern about the situation and asked the governors to take responsibility if hot spots of forest or bush fires are detected in their areas,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk said at yesterday’s meeting.
Preecha said he would use satellite mapping to monitor fire hot spots in each province. If the hot spots continued to be reported in their areas, provincial governors must take responsibility.
He said Yingluck had instructed his ministry and other agencies to enforce laws strictly – such as the Public Health Act, the Transport Act, and criminal law – to punish people who burn forest areas.
However, he said there was no necessity to evacuate people from haze-hit areas, adding that each province would monitor the situation day by day and report directly to the prime minister.
Interior Ministry permanent secretary Pranai Suwannarat, who attended the meeting, said he was told forest fires in many areas in the North were caused by wealthy people who hired locals to burn degraded forest, as they wanted to claim the land.
“Burning forest areas is no longer the way of local villagers’ lives. It is being ordered by wealthy people wanting the land,” he told the meeting.
Royal Forest Department director-general Suwit Rattnamanee said it was difficult to arrest people for burning in forest reserves because of lack of evidence.
He said responsibility for controlling forest fires had been transferred to local authorities in each province across the country. But, he said, many local authorities did not have enough human resources, facilities and tools to control bush and forest fires.
Yingluck said she had instructed the environment and interior ministers to make their own plans about resolving the haze problem.
She also asked local people not to burn agricultural fields and garbage, saying they should use this material as fertiliser instead.
When asked about claims of officials involved in bush and forest burning, she said she had ordered agencies to investigate charges of wrongdoing by officials.
Lampang Governor Booncherd Kidhen said many burned areas in his province were along highways overseen by the Transport Ministry.
“We found officials had burned grass by the roadsides instead of cutting it,” he told the meeting.
The PCD will propose new regulations to the National Environmental Board’s pollution control committee to control slash-and-burn activities that also lead to harmful haze.
The new regulations will require farmers who want to burn off their fields to ask permission from local authorities. They must also follow instructions from the PCD about when they can burn off their fields, PCD director-general Wichan Simachaya said.
They will be handed to the pollution control committee on March 9 Friday for approval.
The PCD yesterday reported that Lampang province had the most heavy haze days since January – with 17 days and average atmospheric levels of fine-particle dust, or PM 10, of 279 micrograms per cubic metre. It was followed by Chiang Rai with 16 days and 356.5 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10.