By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
AN INCREASING number of people in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) provinces are finding themselves victims of unjust expropriation and land-grabbing, as developers hunt for sites to facilitate investment and industrial development.
Wandee Buaphrom, a 62-year-old farmer in Tambon Khao Din, Chachoengsao province, stared at her lush paddy field in the midst of the rainy season.
Although she has invested in and planted rice crops on the land as generations of her forefathers have done before her, she has been dispossessed of the land. Her green paddy field will soon be turned into an industrial estate. “I am a tenant on my own land after my father lost ownership of the land to a loan shark, as he was unable to pay back his debt because of the extremely high interest rate. So my family became landless farmers and we had to lease our rightful land from the landlord to continue our way of life,” Wandee said.
“However, last year something strange happened; the landlord said we do not have to pay the rent any more, because he had already sold the land to a land broker. He said we should pack up and leave, because the land will be used to develop an industrial estate in the EEC.”
Wandee and her family, however, have refused to move out. For her family, the land is not only a source of income but also their very home, she said. Moreover, they have nowhere else to go.
“I do not know how much longer we can stay here, as workers are already entering our land with bulldozers. We can only hope that the authorities or someone will help us,” she said with tears in her eyes.
According to Sarayuth Sonraksa, coordinator of the Klong Luang Watershed Council, Wandee’s family is one of more than 10 farming families in tambon Khao Din that are the victims of unjust land expropriation. The same land broker bought about 4,000 rai (640 hectares) of land in the area from different landlords to resell at a higher price to a developer who wants to establish an industrial estate specialising in battery manufacturing.
Development of the new battery industrial park violates the current Chachoengsao city plan that has designated the area an agricultural zone, says Sarayuth. The project developer has also failed so far to conduct public hearings and an environmental impact assessment of the project, he adds. Similar land conflicts have been erupting throughout the three provinces – Chachoengsao, Rayong and Chon Buri – within the EEC after the National Council for Peace and Order last year announced the corridor’s development as a major initiative to attract foreign investors and revive the country’s economy.
This has led to a sharp increase in demand for land for industrial expansion in the region.
The situation is severe in Chachoengsao, where 94 per cent of local farmers in the province are tenants and do not hold ownership of their ancestral lands, said Pornpana Kuaycharoen, Land Watch Working Group coordinator.
“Due to the lack of land ownership, the local farmers in Chachoengsao are more prone to be victims of land-grabbing, especially when the demand for land is rising within the province to develop industrial parks and new EEC development projects,” Pornpana said.
“As of now, we have received distress calls from many local people in several areas of Chachoengsao, for instance the farming communities of Tambon Yothaka in Bang Nam Priew district and Tambon Khao Din in Bang Pakong district.”
She explained that as many local people only rented their land, they were at risk of being expelled at any time, because their landlords could terminate the lease contract in order to sell the property to real estate brokers.
“The land and real estate market in the province has been very active in Chachoengsao since the EEC development was announced,” she said. “The land price in the province is skyrocketing, creating incentives for land brokers to pool together land from private owners and sell them to industrial developers at a higher price.”
Meanwhile, Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department director-general Monton Sudprasert said the government acknowledged the agricultural potential of Chachoengsao and so intended to develop the province as a “liveable city” and a comfortable residential zone for workers in Bangkok and the EEC.
Monton said there was also plenty of unfertile farmland that could be redeveloped for the new city. However, he said agriculture would remain the most important economic activity in the province.