Don't let rich snatch land

Don't let rich snatch land

An initiative of Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow on land reform which will see the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) "repossess" Sor Por Kor land illegally occupied by resorts and hotels, and then rent the land back to them is so outrageous that it should be dropped immediately if the government is serious about tackling landlessness among poor farmers.

The minister who oversees Alro revealed the controversial initiative last week. Since the proposal requires the amendment of the land's allocation status, he said new regulations are being drafted. These are to be completed in three months -- to pave the way for the repossession-and-rent process. The authorities will consider the appropriate rental rate based on Treasury Department recommendations and a committee will draft the new regulations.

However, in introducing such a controversial initiative, Capt Thamanat is blatantly defying the principle of Sor Por Kor land reform which is supposed to benefit the landless poor. Sor Por Kor is degraded forest land which the state allocates to poor farmers for cultivation.

Each poor farmer is entitled to a maximum of 50 rai. They cannot sell it but can hand it down to their children.

"Not all Sor Por Kor land is now fit for farming and it would be better if Alro can utilise it differently," Capt Thamanat said.

Alro has 40 million rai of land under its supervision but loopholes and shortcomings in the law and enforcement enable people who are ineligible to acquire Sor Por Kor land plots. For example, there are no penalties for those who illegally acquire the land. Once they give up wrongful ownership, they do not have to face any charges.

Capt Thamanat's initiative will definitely lead to illegal land grabs by the rich, while the poor will once again be left out in the cold.

There are too many cases that reflect double standards by state authorities in dealing with rich and powerful land grabbers compared to the poor. One well-known case is of the luxury resort in Wang Nam Khieo which sits on a forest reserve and where there have been attempts to have it wrongfully classified as Sor Por Kor land.

When the controversy re-ignited last year after it became a seminar venue for the Palang Pracharath Party, those involved pledged to reexamine the case. Almost a year has passed, and nothing has been done. Capt Thamanat's initiative might end up doing the resort operator a very big favour.

Another blatant case involved a Ratchaburi lawmaker, whose 1,700-rai poultry farm was found to partially trespass on forest reserve and also Sor Por Kor land. While raising chickens can be classified as an agricultural activity, the MP is far too rich to be eligible for the land. Yet, legal action against the lawmaker has been carried out sluggishly, with little progress to date, and that also raises questions about double standards.

Land reform is based on noble principles that must be respected. As the minister overseeing Alro, Capt Thamanat is obliged to ensure that Sor Por Kor land goes to poor, landless farmers. He must do whatever he can to prevent illegal land grabs by the wealthy and influential, and prevent foul play.

If Capt Thamanat is not aware of his duty, it's the job of the government and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to give him a slap on the wrist and right the wrong now.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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