CIVIC-SOCIETY GROUPS are opposing government efforts to employ the special power of Article 44 of the provisional charter to allow petroleum exploitation in areas managed by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) on the grounds that the land was originally allocated to benefit landless people, not big corporations.
The junta’s special powers would negate a Supreme Administrative Court verdict, which has prohibited using farmland for other purposes, according to ALRO secretary-general Sompong Inthong. Farmers on the designated land would be properly compensated, he added.
The court verdict on June 1 outlawed petroleum exploration and drilling as well as mining on ALRO land, forcing seven petroleum exploration operators to stop operations.
“We should question first, what is the real intention of the ALRO land allocation? The ALRO land is degraded forestland that the government allows landless people to settle and farm. It is a food-producing area and home for landless people, while other activities on ALRO land is illegal,” said Somlak Hutanuwatr, a leading environmentalist.
She added that there would also be pollution problems related to petroleum drilling, as operators were using fracking techniques, which caused severe pollution that could not be addressed.
“The government does not have proper mitigation measures regarding environmental problems caused by petroleum drilling, or compensation for affected people,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sompong said the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order would only be one of several options that could allow petroleum operators to resume their operations, as well as to allow ALRO land to be used for other activities besides farming that benefit the country’s economy.
“We have large plots of ALRO land across the country, not all of which is suitable for agriculture, so we should be open to the possibility of making good use of the land according to the local resources,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam also said the NCPO and the Cabinet would meet to discuss the “urgent” problem, which was costing the country’s petroleum industry up to Bt50 million per day.
Wissanu said there were four possible ways to tackle the problem: First, transfer the ALRO land to the government; second, amend the ALRO law; third, issue new ALRO rules; and fourth, issue an NCPO Article 44 order.