Government gives seized plots to landless
Prayut uses Section 44 to expedite project
The government has started distributing land plots seized from those caught encroaching on national forest reserves as part of a project to help the landless poor.
Following the May 22 coup, more than 50,000 land plots have been confiscated from encroachers nationwide under martial law.
The government is now allocating the land plots to landless people nationwide, with Section 44 of the interim charter being invoked to bypass normal legal procedures and fast-track the land allocation project.
Section 44 has been invoked to replace martial law - which was lifted on Wednesday - giving the National Council for Peace and Order's leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, unlimited power to run the country.
Under the land allocation project, residents will be granted land use rights, instead of land ownership rights to prevent them from selling their land to big businesses.
Gen Prayut visited Chiang Mai yesterday to oversee the ceremony in which local people were given the right to make use of land in national forest reserves at Ban Hua Say in tambon Mae Tha of Mae On district.
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More than 1,000 residents turned up at the event and waited to receive the land.
Security was tight with more than 2,000 police, soldiers and defence volunteers deployed to Ban Huay Say school, where the ceremony was held.
Chiang Mai residents are the first to have been granted such rights under the project.
A total of 1,235 families at Ban Mae Tha have been given documents allowing them to use land plots covering 7,282 rai in Khun Mae Tha forest reserve in Mae On district.
The documents are not land title deeds and so they cannot be sold to others.
In the next phases of the project, a total of 1,343 families will be issued documents to use land plots covering 7,926 rai at Tha Than forest reserve in Chom Thong district and at Mae Tan and Mae Yui forest reserves in Hot district.
Another 793 families will be granted rights to use land covering 2,308 rai in Fang River forest reserve in Fang district.
Addressing the ceremony, Gen Prayut said the government recognised the plight of the landless poor - a problem which has been unsolved for a long time.
He said the invocation of Section 44 of the interim constitution also aims to solve this problem swiftly, adding state agencies are working to survey land areas for allocation to people.
Invoking Section 44 enables the land plots seized to be distributed directly and immediately to locals. The land distribution is not possible through normal legal channels as land encroachment cases must go through court proceedings which take a long time.
"This is an example of powers under Section 44 being used to help people," Gen Prayut said, adding that giving people land use rights will help prevent a repeat of past problems.
In the past, those who were given land ownership rights tended to sell their land to others which opened the way for businessmen to take over land ownership, Gen Prayut said.
In light of this, the government has decided to give them land use documents rather than land ownership documents, he said.
The prime minister warned against locals selling land use documents to others.
"To use my powers fully, those who encroach on forest reserves must be evicted,'' Gen Prayut said.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Rattanasuwan said the land allocation has been approved by the National Land Policy Committee.
The first phase of the land allocation project will cover a total of 53,697 rai of land in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Chumphon. The second phase will cover 51,929 rai in Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Lamphang, Uttaradit, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Yasothon and Ubon Ratchathani.
Gen Dapong said those local people that have been allocated land are required to help the government look after it, as well as nearby community forests, and to help protect the forests against fires.
The government will make an assessment to follow up on the land distribution project, he added.
Boonsong Phasi, a 64-year-old resident of Mae On distrct, said he was happy he has been given permission to make use of the land.
From now on, he has the right to plant trees without fearing the land will be confiscated.
He also noted that local people had made use of these forest land plots long before they were announced as forest reserves.
Anant Duankaewruen, a resident of Mae On, said locals were delighted after 22 years of fighting for land rights.
He said the government has made a bold decision to let locals manage their land by themselves.
Even though locals have not been granted ownership of the land, they can be sure to make a living from it legally without it being seized by the state.
"From now on, it is up to locals to prove they can follow the rules and co-exist with the forests," Mr Anant said.