Conserve Bang Kachao's charm
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Conserve Bang Kachao's charm

During a visit to Bang Kachao earlier this month, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin mulled an idea of promoting this part of Samut Prakan province famous for its green space as a high-end tourist attraction.

With a real estate background, it's easy for the PM to see the value of the area, stretching more than 20,000 rai across six tambons in Phra Pradaeng district, including the namesake Bang Kachao, as well as Bang Krasob and Bang Namphung.

The area is known for cycling trails, a public park and local market as well as trips to watch fireflies.

The prime minister was to discuss the ecotourism promotion plan with Tourism and Sports Minister Sermsak Pongpanich and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). He means business -- and aims to have the ecotourism plan implemented by this year's last quarter.

Last Tuesday, the prime minister ordered four ministries -- finance, interior, tourism and environment -- to coordinate so as to ensure better conservation, while the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) was ordered to work out Bang Kachao's eco-tourism plan.

Bang Kachao is designated as a green area with strict building control codes by the Thanin Kraivixian government back in 1977. Since then, it has been trial and error on land management and conservation.

Initially, the state issued a regulation aimed at appropriating some 9000 rai of land for conservation. Strong resistance by locals prompted it to switch to voluntary appropriation, asking those wishing to sell their land to do so to the government. In 2001, the state still banned construction projects.

In 2005, the state eased building codes, allowing for construction of detached houses, with some conditions.

The year 2014 was a turning point when the government amended the city plan, permitting real estate development. The new rule resulted in soaring land prices amid a sharp rise in land demand.

In fact, irrelevant state policies are a predicament for this area. For instance, a land tax launched by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government -- which aimed to ease land ownership concentration -- is a challenge for Bang Kachao residents.

By listing vacant, green areas as "unused" property, owners are then slapped with expensive levies, forcing some people to either sell or to "develop" their land by constructing buildings -- which has caused green areas to shrink.

The tourism boom, with its high demand for tourist accommodation, could add pressures to the land use predicament.

There are reports that some business owners have lobbied for a new town plan.

Apart from this land use kerfuffle, Bang Kachao's environment is a tough issue.

One emerging problem is the massive loss of nipa palm -- or chak -- forest that covered its canals and waterways.

According to conservationists, up to 80% of the palm forest along networks of canals and waterways has disappeared as a result of destructive dredging carried out last year by the six tambon administration offices.

Local administrators have replaced the natural forest with wooden poles in what is seen as a waste of state budget. It's unfortunate that local activists had no chance to raise such problems with the premier during the visit.

It's more than the loss of greenery. Gone is the ecological system, full of aquatic creatures like snails.

The environmentalists noticed the population of fireflies has substantially declined. As World Fireflies Day approaches next week, residents are unsure if they could get a view of the creatures.

It's a shame that the local administration offices did not consult with local communities about the canal dredging. They bypassed the public hearing process.

The communities raised the problem with the Irrigation Department but little could be done, since the department has no authority. The people were told it's up to the TAOs.

There is also a flaw in the current flood prevention project that does not recognise basic mangrove forest ecology.

Calls by residents for efficient floodgate management with coordinated opening times for all the floodgates to maintain the palm forest which remains and the local ecology remain unheard.

What's going on is still a problem. The four ministries and Dasta need to address these issues. Restoring the palm forest must be one of their priorities.

Those assigned must tear down bureaucratic obstacles and work in a holistic way to get things done. This is a challenging task.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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