Illegal land occupation targeted
S44 used to reclaim plots, assist farmers
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Chatchai Sarikulya has pledged to tackle the illegal occupation of more than 430,000 rai of Sor Por Kor agricultural reform land in 25 provinces within 129 days.
The four-month time frame was set after Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), invoked his power under Section 44 of the interim charter on Tuesday to boost official efforts to reclaim large plots of illegally occupied reform land for reallocation to landless farmers.
It is unclear how he chose the exact figure of 129 days, which would be a deadline of Nov 12.
Gen Chatchai said the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), which is responsible for the issue, will announce targeted land plots at local administration offices and occupants have 15 days to challenge the decision and submit any supporting evidence.
The land rights verification process will be completed within 30 days, he said, adding those who have valid proof will be allowed to stay while those who fail to provide any proof of rights to ownership, or who are found to be illegally occupying the agricultural reform plots, will be evicted, he said.
He said there are a total of 429 cases spanning 432,765 rai across 25 provinces.
"We hope the process will be completed as scheduled. Although this task is being carried out under a special executive order, we will abide by the law to bring justice to all parties," he said.
Gen Chatchai said the ministry will redistribute land plots to the poor under the concept of "cooperatives", which means there will be no individual land ownership.
Land management will be carried out by the cooperatives, while farming support, water sources and infrastructure will be supported by the government.
Each family will receive around five rai of land which cannot be sold, he added.
The agriculture reform land, known as Sor Por Kor land, is deteriorated forest land officially allocated by Alro to poor and landless farmers for agricultural purposes. The plots cannot be sold or transferred to others.
However, several plots of Sor Por Kor land are being occupied by investors and business operators for non-farming purposes.
Under the NCPO's order, three types of agricultural reform lands are being targeted.
The first involves plots covering 500 rai or more that have been illegally occupied. There are about 422 plots with a total combined area of 426,300 rai that fall into this category.
The second concerns plots of land covering 100 rai or more that have been sold to a third party, of which there are two plots covering 488 rai in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Ratchasima.
In the third category, there are five plots covering 5,906 rai in Krabi, Surat Thani and Nakhon Ratchasima. The court has ruled these plots have been illegally occupied.
"Alro has been instructed to proceed. There are details of the targeted plots. If the plots are legally occupied, no action will be taken. But if they aren't, Alro will reclaim the land," said Gen Chatchai.
Sunsern Aggutamanus, Alro secretary-general, said the Sor Por Kor regulation was introduced in 1975 following recognition of other land possession documents such as Nor Sor 3 and Sor Kor 1. If an occupant has other types of land documents in the Sor Por Kor area, they will be allowed to remain on the plots. He also said Alro can immediately proceed to reclaim the Sor Por Kor land plots ruled by the court as illegally occupied.
The invocation of Section 44 to deal with the land problem comes despite cabinet approval of the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry's bill to solve illegal land possession in agricultural land reform zones. The draft legislation is being vetted by the Council of State before it goes to the National Legislative Assembly for scrutiny.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Wednesday the bill will be forwarded to the NLA as planned. The NCPO chief has opted for a special executive order because the issue is urgent.
"Taking legal action against those who are illegally occupying the land is another matter. At this stage, we seek to reclaim the land for redistribution to landless farmers," he said.
Meanwhile, the NCPO chief also has exercised his power under Section 44 to authorise Phetchabun authorities to deal with the illegal possession of land on Phu Thap Boek, the province's mountain tourist attraction.