Eviction looms as rail project draws near
Local community asks SRT to find them alternative housing if their homes must be sacrificed for progress
Prasobsuk community residents feel they are paying the price for the fast-paced infrastructure development cutting through the heart of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Residents of the community, one of nine which rent land owned by the State Railway of Thailand, wake up every morning to find construction of the high-speed rail project creeping ever closer to them.
"It's barely a kilometre away from us now," said Niyom Phinijpong, 63, deputy leader of the community.
The residents are left holding their breath after being served with a notice to move out to make way for "future progress".
But the present is what counts for these residents.
For Chalaem Ketmai, 80, the community has been her home for years and she simply cannot afford to move.
She used to make a living collecting scrap metal for sale. But chronic illnesses and old age have confined her to a ramshackle house.
"I live on the monthly old-age pension. If they want to drive me out, I won't budge. I have nowhere else to go," she said.
She would leave only if the SRT found a new place for her to rent.
The Prasobsuk community is situated along the 12-km Khok Kruad-Nakhon Ratchasima section of the megarail project.
The SRT leased out the land to the residents for years. Now, the agency has no plan to renew the lease as it must vacate the land for laying the tracks.
The SRT is expropriating 40 metres of land on either side of the track. The other communities being moved are Liab Nakhon, Song Khang Thang Rot Fai, Lang Juan Phoo Wa, Ratchanikoon 1, Ratchanikoon 3, Benjarong, Thung Sawang-Sala Loy and Mahachai-Udomporn.
About 390 families are affected by the expropriation.
Now, the residents are taking the matter into their own hands. Cloth and vinyl banners are strung the length of their homes to oppose what they call an unjust eviction. They insisted they will not budge until alternative housing is secured for them.
Mr Niyom said the residents are troubled by both the high-speed and double-track rail projects. They have met SRT executives to thrash out the issue.
The residents demand the SRT stop evicting them. They allege some contractors had harassed them into moving.
"We're not against development. We'll only be too happy to be out of here when alternative housing is provided for us," he said.
Mr Niyom said the SRT could lease them new land like it does private companies. "Buying a home is a way out of our league. Most residents do odd jobs to scrape by," he said.
The SRT should find for them alternative land that is within five kilometres from where they are now. Several residents work in the area, which is close to the markets and schools.
The deputy head of the community said he has not heard back from the SRT after their previous talks. Mr Niyom is reluctant to travel to Bangkok to follow up on their demands because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Pitak Mabjabok, 56, a Prasobsuk resident, said he has grown attached to the community. He admitted that when the news broke about the rail projects he was worried for his future.
His house has been hit by a fire and all that is left to his name is a roll of tape measure, one tool of his trade as a builder.
"It's not like we're holding back progress for the city of Korat. We're poor and now see the prospect of being homeless. We want the authorities to understand our plight," he said.