Deep roots to land row

Deep roots to land row

The dispute concerning approximately 2,900 rai of forest land within Khao Yai National Park involving the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Nakhon Ratchasima Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), highlights concerns regarding a land reform policy aimed at upgrading Sor Por Kor land -- formerly non-transferrable plots allocated to impoverished farmers -- into title deeds.

The row grabbed national headlines after park officials -- under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources -- discovered that officials from Alro, the land reform office under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, had put demarcation marker stones on national park land.

Rows over the demarcation of public land plots are not unusual in Thailand where different ministries use different regulations and land maps.

Yet the Khao Yai row has drawn massive public attention simply because of its highly popular status -- being the first national park in the country; the national park closest to Bangkok, and the fact that it's part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which is a Unesco World Heritage site.

It is well known that the land within and around Khao Yai National Park is prime land eagerly sought after by land developers so that it can be turned into resorts, condominiums, luxury housing estates or hotels.

A rai of land there can fetch up to a 40 million baht per rai. The row warrants a valid question -- who will get ownership of the Sor Por Kor land located in such prime rural territory?

The row was quickly solved yesterday as Agriculture Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow made a quick policy U-turn. He vowed that he would revoke any Sor Por Kor plots located on the border of the national parks, including the 2,900 rai in dispute, and that the wildlife sanctuary would be a buffer zone.

The Sor Por Kor land conflict in Khao Yai National park shows us the unwanted effects of the ambitious drive of Capt Thamanat to upgrade 2 million rai of Sor Por Kor plots into title deeds for distribution to 1.6 million farmers.

The policy holds promise in principle, offering farmers access to financial resources for infrastructure upgrades and business expansion. However, significant loopholes exist.

For instance, newly allocated Sor Por Kor lands permit commercial activities, including operating farm businesses and even opening gas stations. Capt Thamanat is reportedly contemplating further expansions, such as allowing hotels and condos on Sor Por Kor land, originally intended for subsistence farmers who would pay rental fees. The policy also lacks essential mechanisms, such as a Land Bank, to repurchase lands or offer loans to landholders.

The Khao Yai land dispute may be just the tip of the iceberg of a larger scale of abuses. Without oversight, the policy will only curry favour among the landholders and their families to transfer plots to investors. It is important to proceed cautiously, and make sure that the landholders are actually real farmers who will remain beneficiaries of the scheme.

A land reform policy of this magnitude should not be under the control of the responsible ministries. Such a policy on land management should be jointly decided on by a national committee chaired with responsible ministries, or even neutral institutes such as The Land Bank Administration Institute and even the National Human Rights Committee.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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