LAND CONFLICTS are likely to worse in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), academics warn, because the revised city plans for the three provinces involved will enlarge the industrial zone and swallow vast swaths of farmland, displacing farmers.
The warning follows an announcement by the Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department that more than 300,000 rai in Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao will be reallocated for industrial use under the new city plans to be released in coming weeks.
Academics and citizens point out that, unless the city plans better suit residents’ needs and geographical features, the abrupt changes in land use would trigger environmental and social problems.
Monton Sudprasert, Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department director-general, said 214,000 rai in agricultural use in the three provinces would be re-coloured on zoning maps a light purple in preparation for the EEC’s future industrial expansion.
If combined with the 24 Industrial Promotional Zones already designated, more than 300,000 rai – about 3 per cent of total 8.3 million rai in the three provinces – would be earmarked for industry.
“The light purple zone in the new city plans is intended to accommodate future investments, so most of it is clustered around the existing industrial zones to make it easier for industry to expand,” Monton said.
“These areas already have all of the necessary infrastructure, including wastewater-treatment facilities, and that should ensure that new industry’s impact on the environment is minimised.”
Monton said the city plans would also enlarge areas shown in yellow and designated for residential and commercial use ready to serve the EEC’s planned “smart cities”.
“The new light purple and yellow zones will only be designated where the land is infertile and worthless for farming, while arable farmland will be preserved as a ‘green’ agricultural zone, so the public need not worry about the shrinking green zones in the new city plans,” he said.
However, Somnuck Jongmeewasin, a Silpakorn University lecturer and member of EEC Watch, called the land use changes worrisome.
“If the new city plans are enforced, it will trigger a time bomb in terms of the land-grab problem, because the plans will kick off industrial development in the previously protected green agricultural zones,” Somnuck said.
Developers grabbing farmland
He pointed out that much agricultural land had already fallen into the hands of developers even though the original owners were still allowed to farm. No industrial development had yet begun because the farmland remained protected under the existing city plans.
“The colour changes in the new city plans will unlock this restriction and the farmers on these lands will be displaced and become landless,” he said.
Earlier reports indicated that land agents moved swiftly when the government announced the EEC development project to secure significant amounts of agricultural property for resale to industrial interests.
Many farmers had lost their land even before, after falling victim to local loan sharks. They have thus far been allowed to continue living there and farming, but only as tenants.
Rangsit University rector Arthit Ourairat also urged the government to reconsider the EEC development plan and changes in land use once it has consulted residents and academics. All stakeholders should be able to derive some benefit, he said.
In an open letter to the authorities, Arthit pointed out that the change in land use in many areas, especially in the Bang Pakong River floodplain in Chachoengsao, which he said is more suitable for farming, would conflict with geographic features and economic potential.
He said most of the Industrial Promotion Zones cover existing industrial estates, which are full of polluting industries contrary to the stated EEC aim of promoting 10 types of “clean, modern” industries.
Arthit urged the authorities to make sure that the development took into account residents’ needs and wishes.
To ensure that farmers do not end up landless, he suggested the government finance communal land deeds that could not be resold so that the community itself could manage its remaining land.
Industrial expansion in EEC
Declared Industrial Promotional Zones: 95,409 rai
Rayong: 56,170 rai
Chonburi: 38,398 rai
Chachoengsao: 814 rai
Industrial zone for new investment: 214,000 rai
Land use in EEC provinces (as of 2016)
Rayong 2.22 million rai
Urban and industry 293,445rai (13.22 per cent)
Farmland 1.563 million rai (70.39 per cent)
Forestland 175,871 rai (7.92 per cent)
Water 81,271 rai (3.67 per cent)
Other 106,369 rai (4.8 per cent)
Chonburi 2.726 million rai
Urban and industry 558,935 rai (20.49 per cent)
Farmland 1.628 million rai (59.73 per cent)
Forestland 303,903 rai (11.14 per cent)
Water 67,207 rai (2.47 per cent)
Other 168,254 rai (6.17 per cent)
Chachoengsao 3.334 million rai
Urban and industry 225,360 rai (6.75 per cent)
Farmland 2.367 million rai (70.78 per cent)
Forestland 543,972 rai (16.27 per cent)
Water 98,243 rai (2.97 per cent)
Other 109,204 rai (3.26 per cent)
Sources: Eastern Economic Corridor Office and Land Devlopment Department