Panel to decide today on controversial Doi Suthep project

national April 20, 2018 01:00

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM,
PATHINYA SRISUPAMATU
THE NATION

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A DECISION on the controversial court housing project in Doi Suthep has been postponed to today after the Court of Justice again denied access to the project site yesterday amid clamour by opposition groups to demolish all buildings that encroached on forestland.



Doi Suthep Forest Reclamation Network coordinator Teerasak Rupsuwan said yesterday that as the Court of Justice was denying access to the site by the committee tasked with resolving the conflict at Doi Suthep, the deadline to find a solution was postponed from yesterday to today.

Teerasak stated that the issue would be resolved by the deadline irrespective of whether a third request for the committee to access the controversial site is accepted or rejected by the Court of Justice. 

He said the group already has enough information on the project site and terrain from bird’s eye-view pictures shot by a drone and inspection around the border of the project site.

“The problem-solving committee, which consists of representatives from the public sector and relevant agencies, will hold a meeting at the office of the Chiang Mai Irrigation Project to finalise a solution to this conflict, which would be presented to the prime minister,” he said.

The idea to create a committee of representatives from the public sector and related agencies was suggested by the Third Army Area 3 chief Lt-General Wijak Banpasop at a public meeting on April 9. The problem-solving committee was tasked with reaching a conclusion by yesterday.

However, the Court of Justice stayed out of the deliberations and it also did not provide a reason for denying the committee members permission to enter and inspect the project area.

The Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forest yesterday arranged an event “You can break my heart but don’t hurt Doi Suthep” at Chiang Mai University’s Doi Suthep Nature Study Centre. The event aimed to publicise the spiritual importance of Doi Suthep Mountain to the people of Chiang Mai and campaign for sustainable and respectful development in the area of the sacred mountain.

Speaking at the event, Teerasak said the stance of the network and the people of Chiang Mai remained the same – the demolition of 45 mansions and nine residential buildings, which they consider as clearly encroaching on forestland, and restoration of the encroached land to its former state.

The group also suggested the inclusion of Doi Suthep’s forestland, which were still controlled by various official agencies, into the area of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, but they admitted that more discussions were needed on this issue.

“We understand that the authorities would be wasting a lot of money on this project, if it were demolished, but such a loss would be more acceptable in order to restore the encroached area. This also will be a big lesson to the state to make them more careful and include public participation before initiating any project,” he said.

He also added that the local people in Chiang Mai regard Doi Suthep as a spiritual place, so they have always protested against disrespectful projects on Doi Suthep – for instance a proposed cable-car project.

Former Supreme Court judge Chuchart Srisaeng and former senator Paisal Puechmongkol waded into the stand-off, raising suspicions whether the group opposing the court housing project may have the intention of defaming the justice system and are possibly linked to a political group. They said it was clear that the project was entirely legal and the project site did not encroach on the national park area.

Reacting to the accusation, Teerasak said his group had protested against the project since the beginning, but its campaign had come to public attention only recently.

He also insisted that the campaign of the network was just a reflection of the power of the people of Chiang Mai, who want to protect their sacred mountain. He said they would protest against any agency that caused damage to Doi Suthep, and it was not singling out the Court of Justice.

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