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Govt ‘has gone too far siding with companies over ALRO land’

politics July 10, 2017 01:00

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

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Critics hit selective use of Article 44 but ALRO chief says poor farmers will benefit.



THE MILITARY government has gone too far with measures that benefit big corporations, experts have cautioned, as the government has used its special powers to overturn the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict allowing non-farming economic activities on land held by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO).

Meanwhile, the ALRO argues that the permission is for the greater good of the country and there will be a proper profit-sharing system to benefit local farmers.

In June, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) exercised its special powers under Article 44 of the interim charter to allow corporations with activities on ALRO land to resume their operations. Many people have condemned the move, which they said unacceptably favoured rich corporations and ignored the land rights of poor farmers.

NCPO order 31/2560 overturned the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict, which had found that the use of ALRO land for activities such as mining and petroleum drilling rather than farming was against the law. The court ordered that an ALRO regulation that permits such activities be revoked.

Somchai Preecha-silpakul, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Chiang Mai University, said the NCPO order was intended to benefit specific groups of people but did not provide any profits for landless farmers.

“This is another confirmation that the government does not really care about the land issue for the poor farmers and gave more attention to securing the benefit of the energy conglomerates,” Somchai said.

“This is the use of power without good governance principles, which will lead to more severe land problems.”

Somchai said using the special power to overthrow the court verdict and permit mining and petroleum drilling on ALRO land was unacceptable. It showed that the government did not care about the existing law and order, he said.

Former Bangkok senator Rosana Tositrakul also said the government’s claim that the country would lose a lot of money if petroleum and crude oil could not be drilled on ALRO land was an invalid argument because such activities were against the law in the first place.

The government has previously stated that the country would lose Bt125 million from royalties per day, with a daily total loss of Bt950 million to the economy if existing petroleum drilling operations were halted.

Rosana said the law must apply equally to everyone and the original intent in creating the ALRO was to |distribute land to landless farmers, not to provide more benefits to big |conglomerates.

“There are many inappropriate issues in this NCPO order. First, Article 44 of interim charter does not include the use of power like this. It is the selective use of power, because in the cases of people in the forest, the government chose to harshly drive them away instead of using the special power to evade the law like this,” she said.

However, ALRO secretary-general Sompong Inthong said the NCPO order was right to allow the existing corporations to resume their operations. The order applied to only around 4,000 rai (640 hectares) of land, or 0.1 per cent of all 40 million rai of ALRO land, he said.

“We would like to assure that there was proper consideration to weigh the benefits for everyone,” said Sompong. “And this way the country, and also |the farmers, will benefit from these activities, as the operators on ALRO land will have to pay royalties to an ALRO fund, which will be used for assisting the farmers.”

He said that if in the future there was more land used for mining or the petroleum industry, there would be proper compensation for farmers and regulations to oversee the operations.

The ALRO chief said the land would be returned to farmers for use as water retention ponds or other purposes.

“We need this order to amend our laws and modernise our practices to fit with the current situation and society,” he added.

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