By The Nation
AN ENVIRONMENTALIST began a hunger strike yesterday over the construction of court officials’ residences at the foot of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep mountain.
Nikom Putta, who heads the Mae Ping River Conservation Group, is conducting his peaceful protest in front of the Court of Appeals Region 5 headquarters.
The Court of Appeals Region 5 owns the project that is seeing the construction of residences for court officials and judges on the mountain next to its headquarters.
While environmentalists say that the headquarters is not in the forest zone, they firmly believe that the 45 houses and nine condo buildings being constructed have encroached on Doi Suthep forestland.
Nikom said yesterday that court officials should not use houses and condo buildings that were built on the controversial site.
“Let these buildings stand only as monuments to the mistakes,” he said.
He said he would continue his hunger strike and keep praying to encourage all sides to talk, admit that mistakes had occurred, and embrace a peaceful solution.
Nikom spoke up after Chamnan Rawiwanpong, who previously headed the Court of Appeals Region 5 and now heads the Supreme Court’s Bankruptcy Division, suggested amid the stand-off that court officials should be allowed to use these structures for 10 years.
The residences, which are being built at a cost of nearly Bt1 billion, are almost complete.
The construction site, authorities have insisted, sits not in the forest zone but just next to the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.
Nikom said while the courts might say that the constructions were legal, they were not being fair.
“How can the court clear forest land for its officials’ residences while people are prosecuted for encroachment?” he said.
He said one should not accept what was perhaps legal but unethical.
Nikom is affiliated with the Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forest, which pland to stage a march from Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate to the Statues of Three Kings this Sunday.
People from all walks of life in Chiang Mai fly green ribbons to show their stance in favour of protecting forestland.
“I expect about 1,000 people to turn up,” the network’s coordinator, Teerasak Rupsuwan, said yesterday.
He said his network now included 31 organisations, up from 16 at its inception.
“Court officials can just rent a place [to live] as they have done over the past many years,” Teerasak commented.
Chiang Mai-Loving Group member Bunnaroth Buaklee, who has joined the network, said that so many locals had begun wearing green ribbons as a stance against the court’s move to occupy the forest land that they were now running out of stock.
This Friday, monks will stage a ritual at Doi Sa Ket Temple to ask that authorities return the forestland as merit-making.