Social Environmental Impact Assessment and Ethnic Minorities: State vs. Local Interest in Khao Laem Dam Construction

By Pongsapich, Amara; Phutharaporn, Kobkul et al. | Journal of Business Administration, Annual 1994 | Go to article overview

Social Environmental Impact Assessment and Ethnic Minorities: State vs. Local Interest in Khao Laem Dam Construction


Pongsapich, Amara, Phutharaporn, Kobkul, Lapthananon, Pinit, Journal of Business Administration


1. Historical Background: Policy and Legislation Related to Ethnic Minorities in Thailand

Until World War II, Thai governments viewed the country as ethnically homogeneous, consisting only of Thai people. Those who were ethnically non-Thai were outside the Thai social structure. They lived as separate group but inter-mixed with Thais, having free cultural and economic exchanges. Among lowland groups, cultural borrowing, adoption and assimilation had been observed, accepted or even welcomed. Questions of ethnic differences became important only after the formation of the nation-state (Likhit Dhiravegin, 1985). After King Rama VI (1910-1925), the Thai government was involved in the process of democratization. A constitutional government was formed after the 1932 coup d'etat and the government was busy with other political activities. The ethnicity/nationality issue did not come up until after World War II. During the Phibun Regimes (1938-1944 and 1948-1960), Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram himself was quite nationalistic. He adopted segregation and discrimination policies with regard to non-Thais. His government introduced the formal policy of nationalism or rathaniyom and changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand.

Government policy towards ethnic minorities was based largely on fear of communist ideology spreading among the hill people. According to the National Security Council, policies toward ethnic minorities with specific reference to highland settlements can be categorized into 3 periods. The first started in 1959 when a hilltribe development policy was proposed and was mainly concerned with issues of national security. Hilltribe self-help resettlement areas, hilltribe development units, and promotion of Thai identity among hill people were some of the activities carried out. The second period started around 1969 when opium-substitute crops were promoted. The Royal Project promoting opium-substitute agricultural development was one of the first such projects implemented that year. The Office of Narcotic Prevention and Control was later established in 1976; and the opium-substituted policy was reviewed and revised in 1982. The third period beginning around 1987 and continuing to the present time is concerned with natural resource management. In this period the Master Plan for Highland Settlement was proposed and approved by the Cabinet in 1989 (Suthanukul, no date).

The government policies and legislation regarding social-environmental impact assessment that are discussed in this paper mainly concern the issues of national security and national identity. Limited space precludes addressing other issues. Ethnic minorities discussed in this paper include hill people, mostly Karen and Lawa; and lowland Mon, Laotian and Thai.

2. Development of Social Impact Assessment During the 1960's and 1970's

Construction of large infrastructural facilities in Thailand took place about the time when the first national development plan was initiated. The Bhumibol Dam was constructed in 1957, a few years before the first plan was launched. During this time attention was given to only the engineering aspects. Impact studies were not required. Even in North America, the first environmental or social impact assessments were not made until after the United States Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969, and amended it in 1970, in response to widespread public concern with environmental pollution and degradation. The law required that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be undertaken prior to the implementation of large construction projects and these must have Social Impact Assessment (SIA) as a component. Since then, consulting firms have hired sociologists to help carry out social impact assessments as part of the required environmental impact studies.

At the annual American Sociological Association meeting in 1973, the topic of social impact assessment was discussed and a committee was set up to provide guidelines for future SIA studies.

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Social Environmental Impact Assessment and Ethnic Minorities: State vs. Local Interest in Khao Laem Dam Construction
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