A JOINT PANEL of civil society groups and government representatives discussing a controversial construction project on Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep Mountain will be asking the prime minister to find a new location for the court officials’ residences which are nearing completion, according to insiders familiar with the talks.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha will receive a proposal before the end of this month that includes requests that he find a budget to fund construction of new residences at a location other than the foot of the “sacred” mountain adjacent to a national park.
“We have already concluded what should be done. Our proposal will be forwarded to the Chiang Mai governor and the chief of the 33rd Military Circle, then to the chief of the |Third Army Area, and finally to the prime minister,” Teerasak Rupsuwan, co-ordinator for the Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forest, said yesterday.
He expected the joint panel’s proposal to reach Prayut’s hands by April 29, the time frame set by the Third Army Area’s chief earlier |this month. The panel has representatives from both civil society and government sectors, including Teerasak’s network.
The military has stepped in to help mediate the conflict over court officials’ residences after opponents threatened big protests. In the eyes of locals and environmentalists, court officials’ residences are eating into Doi Suthep forest on a mountain that is considered “sacred” in local history.
The Court of Appeals Region 5 has maintained that the construction of the court officials’ residences, which are almost complete under the nearly Bt1billion budget, are legal in every aspect.
The Office of Judiciary said earlier this month that it would comply with the government’s decision on the dispute.
Prayut has since tried to suggest that opponents to the project consider using the facilities for public purposes once completed. However, opponents of the construction have stood firmly by their original stance – that buildings on the controversial site should be demolished so as to minimise environmental damage.
Joint panel representatives from both civil society and government sectors agree that rehabilitation must be done urgently to restore the environment and ensure proper water flow at the controversial construction site, and that the government should find a new location and new budget for the court officials’ residences.
The panel’s government representatives have not agreed with the demand by local organisations that the new buildings be demolished.
Teerasak insisted that the controversial land plot be returned to the Treasury Department so that it could be declared a part of the nearby Doi Suthep–Pui National Park.
According to Teerasak, an announcement should also be issued as a social promise that no organisation would ever again try to claim a land plot in the forest buffer zone.
“We hope the prime minister will make the right decision,” Teerasak said.