New eviction bid a shame

New eviction bid a shame

On the other side of the wall lies the small, tight Mahakan Fort community, scheduled to face the bulldozers of 'progress' next month. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)
On the other side of the wall lies the small, tight Mahakan Fort community, scheduled to face the bulldozers of 'progress' next month. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The renewed effort of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to evict the old Mahakan Fort community are a shame.Last week, Deputy Governor Asawin Kwanmuang told the community and its alliance that while the BMA is obliged to kick the community out of the area, or risk facing a negligence charge by some independent agencies including the National Anti-Corruption Commission, he was open to a "third way" or a compromise.

This is because the fort, which is a registered historical site, belongs to the public and "should not be occupied by a group of people", he said. In doing so, the deputy governor said the BMA needed help from legal experts in finding a third way and embracing the community.

Then on Monday, he insisted the BMA would stick to the eviction plan and the first batch of houses would be bulldozed early next month, saying that no communities can co-exist with a registered historical site, like the fort, and all fort residents must leave.

The eviction plan, which was initiated 24 years ago as part of a city development plan by the Committee for the Conservation of Rattanakosin and Old Towns, has been condemned by academics and conservationists. The committee recently said it would reconsider eviction plans for communities in old-town quarters, but for some reason ruled out the fort community.

The reality is the embattled community has managed to transform its image from that of illegal occupants of state land to a community that can contribute to the fort's conservation.

With help from various educational institutes and development agencies, the Mahakan community has become an ideal site for a "land-sharing" model -- if the site is conserved as a living museum and a park.

According to a study by Silpakorn University, and funded by the BMA, the community's coexistence with the site is no obstacle to the park plan as, by law, the BMA is still the landowner while residents have kept the area well maintained.

In fact, tourists strolling in the community, getting a glimpse of vintage wooden houses that represent the architecture of the early Rattanakosin style, have become a familiar sight.

More importantly, the study found that a stand-alone park model, as wished by the BMA and the Rattanakosin committee, is not relevant as the steep walls make the site an enclosed area which can encourage criminal activity. According to the study, if the community is allowed to stay, it could help secure the safety of park visitors.

While the value of the fort community has been well accepted by various parties, it is unfortunate that the BMA has never opened up to such information and chooses to go by the letter of the law in giving the community the boot.

The case of the Mahakan Fort community shows that the BMA has little, if any, knowledge of community or local history. This poor knowledge is also evident in what it did to to the Khlong Ong Ang and Pak Khlong Talat markets leaving only lifeless, concrete pavement.

In a last-ditch effort, the Mahakan residents have taken the case to the Administrative Court, saying the development plan has trampled its community rights.

They also lodged a petition with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) which encouraged the BMA to explore a third way. The commission urged the BMA to look beyond the strictly legal issues and weigh more of the social and rights aspects.

The BMA should at least wait until the court delivers a ruling in the case before destroying this remarkable community forever.

What the BMA, and deputy governor Asawin need to do is to open up. In doing so, they can make the right decision.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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