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    Wat Tilokaram underneath Kwan Phayao Lake, talks about restoration

    Plan to restore temple hits snag

    Environmentalists are opposing a plan by the governor of Phayao province to restore a temple that was submerged by the creation of Kwan Payao, the country's largest man-made lake, due to fears of damage to the ecosystem.



    Harnnarong Yaowalert, a member of the working group on science and natural resources of the National Economic and Social Development Advisory Council, said that to restore Wat Tilokaram, a 17-rai area on the west side of Kwan Payao would have to be enclosed and the water drained out. He said the project violated several Cabinet resolutions related to Kwan Payao and would damage the lake's ecosystem.

    Believed to have been built 500 years ago by King Tilokanart of the former Lanna Kingdom, now part of northern Thailand, Wat Tilokram has been inundated since Kwan Payao was built 68 years ago.
    Harnnarong said that to change the ecosystem of the lake, an environmental impact assessment had to be conducted first. Moreover, as the temple is more than 100 years old, the approval of the Fine Arts Department is needed, he said.


    Janjira Pongrai

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    Haven't we got enough temples already?

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    bid to restore 500-year-old temple runs into legal wall

    Bt1-billion bid to restore 500-year-old temple runs into legal wall

    The Phayao provincial governor has been asked to hold a public hearing before a Bt1-billion project to restore an ancient temple under the waters of Kwan Phayao - the biggest lake in the North - should resume since authorities found it might have violated environmental and other laws.




    The biggest-ever development project in Kwan Phayao was initiated by Thanasek Asawanuwat, the new Phayao provincial governor, who came to office late last year. The project was to restore Wat Tilok Aram, an ancient temple that has been under water for 68 years.

    The temple is thought to be more than 500 years old, from the era of King Tilokarat, the 10th king of the northern Mengrai dynasty. It was on the bank of the Ing River and was later buried until the area was inundated by an irrigation project in 1939. It is one of more than 10 ancient sites lost to the project.

    "Estimated to have been established between 1476 and 1488, the temple is 15 metres wide and 35 metres long. The remains include four stone poles amidst piles of debris and all are covered by thick weed," the restoration project's website states.

    Phayao Governor Thanasek initiated the restoration in the hope that it would be a new tourist attraction for a small Phayao town. He dreams of the ancient temple being surrounded by a thick concrete wall measuring 150 by 150 metres, with the water inside pumped out and the temple being renovated. Local fishermen could earn money by carrying tourists to visit the renovated temple, he said.

    The area around the renovated temple would be declared a conservation zone for aquatic species, and this, he said, was the second reason for the project.

    It is also a way to maintain a Buddhist heritage and preserve national property, the governor said in February when launching the project.

    During the past three months he sent floating machinery to start construction at the ancient site, as well as holding a religious ritual after the project's launch. However, good intentions might not be enough and doubts have arisen about the project's impact on the lake's environment, as well as the archaeology.

    "How can restoration work start while we know so little about the temple's archaeological data? Even the temple portrait is just a drawing from an artist's personal idea rather than based on actual information," said Nikhom Boonserm, organiser of the Foundation for Phayao Development.

    "Second, how seriously will the construction affect the ecology and quality of water in Kwan Phayao?

    "We never knew any details before. One day the governor invited us to a public meeting to let us know his plan. I immediately asked him these two questions," Nikhom said.

    Nikhom is a respected activist in Phayao, having worked on development issues at Kwan Phayao for more than 20 years. "The plan violates several laws," he said.

    "First, according to the Environment Act, such projects require an environmental impact assessment [EIA], which must go to the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry for approval.

    "Kwan Phayao was listed as an important wetland with ecological significance at an international level by a Cabinet resolution on August 1, 2000," he said. Tuenjai Deethes, a member of the Council for National Security and former president of the Senate environment committee, agrees with Nikhom on the EIA requirement.

    "Second, such projects should be approved by the Fine Arts Department if the temple is older than 100 years. Shouldn't we know first what the temple originally looked like? Then, restoration and renovation could begin. This needs more research," Nikhom said. "Renovating without sufficient information could damage the temple."

    Patiphat Phumpongphaet, director of the Fine Arts Office in Nan, said he disagreed with the project as the temple had long been under water and easily faced erosion. "It might not be worth renovating."

    Wimon Pingmuanglek, chairman of Phayao Cultural Council, expressed concern over the budget. "Bt1 billion is too big for the provincial authority. Even though it is fully supported by this governor, his time in office might be too short for this mega-project," Wimon said.

    Governor Thanasek told local media that he planned to seek some 30 per cent of the project's budget from the central government through annual budget allocations. The rest will be sought from local authorities and donations.

    Since its official launch, debate over the restoration project has been growing nationwide. Both supporting and opposing comments have been expressed.

    In Phayao town, the core supporters of the project are villagers near the site - the Pratu Prasart community.

    "I see no any impact from the restoration. Will it hurt anyone? It will earn us income for sure," Thaweeyut Fuefoen, the community leader said. After expressing his opinion in favour of the project, he said he was surrounded by a group of violent young men while he was doing morning exercise near his home.

    "The project is going to cause serious conflicts among my neighbours, who have different positions. I don't like this tension," one villager said.

    "I think the villagers misunderstand that the project being stopped is due to my opposition. I have insisted that I am not opposed - I just ask for the correct legal processes," Nikhom said.
    He said the project should be considered as part of a comprehensive development project for Kwan Phayao in order to ensure sustainable development of the lake.

    Kamol Sukin,



    Nopporn Thatharn


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    Ministry officials pour water on temple project

    Ministry officials pour water on temple project


    Senior officials from the Culture Ministry yesterday expressed their objection to Phayao province's Bt1-billion project to restore an ancient temple under the waters of Kwan Phayao - the largest freshwater fish habitat under its supervision in the upper North.



    Fine Arts Department director-general Arak Singhitkul said he disagreed with the idea because the temple had been submerged for a long time and draining the water would result in severe erosion to the brick work, requiring even more restoration work.

    He said the project also posed a threat to the Kwan Phayao eco-system and the lives of the local fishing community.

    Culture Minister Khunying Khaisri Sriaroon also disagreed with the attempt to restore the temple as another tourist attraction. She said that as there was no way the restoration could be done easily, it was not worth it. It would also affect locals who relied on fishing to survive.

    Khunying Khaisri said the province should also clean up floating garbage and get rid of the water hyacinth to improve the environment.

    Meanwhile, the Fisheries Department director-general, Jaranthada Karnasuta, said the department has not yet decided if it will allow the project to proceed.

    Jaranthada, who was to meet Phayao Fishery Station officials later yesterday, said he would inspect the area later this month to consider the project details and the environmental impact before making a decision.

    The department might allow the development project to go ahead if it was proved to have minimal impact on the environment, he said.

    A team working for a wetland management panel at the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning is to give its opinion tomorrow, a source said.

    The man-made lake was declared one of Thailand's 61 most important wetland areas with global ecological significance by a Cabinet resolution on August 1, 2000.
    Phayao Governor Thanasek Asawanuwat initiated the development project to restore Wat Tilak Aram, a temple thought to be more than 500 years old, that has been submerged since the lake was created 68 years ago.

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