No water tax plan for small farmers: NLA

Farmers plant rice in one of the most familiar scenes of the country. The military-appointed National Legislative Assembly has ditched a government plan to tax water for farming and irrigation. (Creative Commons photo)

The chairman of the National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) committee vetting a new national water resources bill Thursday assured that the bill, which will be given a second reading in the House today, does not contain a section that will tax farmers for irrigating their fields.

Gen Akanit Muensawad said he is certain that the bill will pass its second and third readings and be approved as law by the end of the year. The bill does not contain a section which had raised concerns among academics and farming leaders.

The government had previously planned to increase efficiency of water use by proposing a solution which would see a collection of tariffs for farm irrigation and other industry uses. However, this plan was opposed by academics and farmers who believed such a measure would be too tough on farmers and that there was no certainty whether this would work to conserve water.

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Gen Akanit said the bill was drafted carefully so as to ensure that people would derive the maximum benefit from it. The bill involves 42 state agencies and 38 water-related laws.

“We assure that this bill will ensure all stakeholders have access to water sources in a fair manner. Moving forward, water usage will be regulated under the same rules. The bill is important for national reform on natural resource management based on sustainability,” he said.

He said the bill will be an important tool for the country’s water management, especially during a water crisis, in which related agencies are required to share information and offer assistance to solve problems. He cited the latest flood crisis in Phetchaburi province two months ago as an example.

Under the draft bill, if such a flood crisis occurs, a crisis management centre would immediately be set up to monitor the situation and limit damages, he said.

Gen Akanit insisted that the bill has never made any mention of a “water tax” as feared by local farmers, saying that the bill divides water into three categories.

The first category refers to small-scale farmers and ordinary people who can use water from natural resources free of charge. However, the second and third categories refer to large-scale water users in the industrial sector, tourism industry and more. These users need to get a water licence and pay a water fee, he said.

He said the related agencies, including the Department of Royal Irrigation and the Department of Water Resources will be given a two-year deadline to set up the ministerial regulation on water allocation measures and water fee collection to those required sectors.

Hannarong Yaowalers, a member on the committee vetting the bill, voiced his concern that some problems might occur if the bill doesn’t pass, especially for the survival of the Office of the National Water Resources, which was established by the National Council for Peace and Order’s command.

He said that the office may no longer exist if there is no law to support it. The new government might dissolve it.

Under the water resources bill, the office functions as a regulator of water management policy, together with taking care of the water management budget for projects initiated by related departments. The bill which contains 95 sections is mainly involved with the establishment of a committee on water resources chaired by the prime minister, a committee on river basins, a water user organisation, together with the establishment of a water crisis management centre.

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