By THE NATION
NATURAL Resources and Environment Minister General Surasak Karnjanarat told reporters yesterday that the Land Department was in the process of revoking the land-rights documents for privately owned plots in Phetchabun that are encroaching on forestland.
An investigation was launched into whether a water park in the province was encroaching on forestland after a Line message, reportedly written by Colonel Pongphetch Ketsupa of Internal Security Operations Command, went viral on social media. In the message, the colonel complained about bureaucratic red tape hampering moves to crack down on forest encroachers.
“I feel disheartened and sad that we cannot protect the watershed forest by the Pasak River,” the message reads.
It continues: “I saw people participating in an opening ceremony [on October 28] for a water park in Phu Khee Kai, which is located on 1,800 rai of forestland in the area overlapping Phetchabun’s Lom Kao and Lom Sak districts. But the process to revoke the [land-rights] documents was so slow that a large part of the forest was destroyed. … Isn’t it time to act now?
“If we are too late, this watershed forest by the Pasak River will be gone. I sincerely beg related agencies to help solve the problem and fight against the gang of forest encroachers. It is already difficult to reclaim forestland, and if we don’t come together to prevent this then I think we might as well just give it up to the investors. When I visited three or four years ago, it was a lush forest, now it looks like this [attached photos showing bare hills in the forest].”
The 1,800-rai was originally divided into 58 plots, which were allegedly obtained using illegal land-rights documents in 1999, which was discovered by the authorities in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Royal Forestry Department has sent a 2006 letter detailing its initial findings of suspected encroachment to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), asking it to re-investigate the case.
DSI chief Pol Colonel Paisit Wongmuang said yesterday its original investigation in December 2007 found that state officials had illegitimately issued land-right documents for the plots.
The DSI had forwarded the case to the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission for action against those officials in November 2008, he said.
In July 2009 the DSI asked the Land Department to consider revoking the land-right documents. More recently, DSI Region 6 headquarters received a complaint that foreign investors had bought up the land plots in question and built structures there, so the agency reopened the case on October 19.