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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Thap Lan National Park Faces Significant Land Reduction Controversy

The hashtags #saveอุทยานแห่งชาติทับลาน (Save Thap Lan National Park) and #saveทับลาน (Save Thap Lan) have surged in popularity on Thai social media, driven by public outrage over the proposed reduction of Thap Lan National Park’s protected area. The park is set to lose 424 square kilometers due to new boundaries established by the One Map project.

Thap Lan National Park, which spans 2,240 square kilometers across the northeastern provinces of Prachinburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Sa Kaew, was established on December 23, 1981. However, its borders have long overlapped with those defined in 1978 by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO), leading to a disputed area of 125 square kilometers.

In March 2023, the Cabinet endorsed the National Land Policy Board’s (NLPB) proposal to redraw the park’s boundaries in line with the One Map project. This initiative, developed by the One Map Committee and NLPB, aims to resolve overlapping boundaries between national parks and agricultural reform land using a mapping ratio of 1:4000.

Under the new plan, Thap Lan National Park will lose 424 square kilometers of its protected land. This decision has sparked outrage among Thai netizens, who question whether the new boundaries serve the interests of ALRO and local communities or benefit private companies. In recent years, over 500 people have been prosecuted for trespassing in the protected area, with many intending to build resorts or vacation homes; most of these cases remain unresolved.

The land retracted from the park will be transferred to ALRO. Under ALRO’s jurisdiction, farmers allocated plots in this area can transfer ownership after five years, a practice previously prohibited under national park management.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Patcharawat Wongsuwan stated that 8,000 hectares currently occupied by settlers in Thap Lan National Park would be carved out and distributed to them to support their livelihoods. On March 14, 2023, the Cabinet approved a proposal from the National Land Policy Committee (NLPC) to transfer a total of 42,400 hectares to settlers, many of whom are resort operators occupying a significant portion of this land.

Thap Lan National Park covers 208,000 hectares across multiple districts, including Pak Thongchai, Wang Nam Khiao, Khon Buri, and Soeng Sang in Nakhon Ratchasima, and Nadee in Prachin Buri. A public hearing was held last weekend in Nakhon Ratchasima to gather stakeholders’ opinions on the NLPC’s proposal, with most settlers in agreement. Patcharawat noted that the public hearing process would conclude within a month, after which the National Parks Committee would finalize the land distribution plan. He added that dissenting opinions would be considered.

Atthaphon Charoenchansa, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, mentioned that both his department and the Office of Land Reform would examine settlers’ qualifications to determine their land occupation rights. He highlighted that some settlers had been on the land before it was designated as a national park, while others were newcomers who bought land from previous settlers.

Krisada Boonchai, secretary-general of the Assembly of Private Organizations for the Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources, criticized previous governments’ forest policy changes and their failure to address forest encroachment, which he said have led to the current land conflicts between people and the state. He questioned why officials did not take appropriate action against those who encroached on Thap Lan National Park to build resorts and hotels.

Chokedee Poralokanon, a former official of the Wildlife and Plant Conservation Foundation of Thailand, explained that the land conflict began during the government of the late Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda when former communist insurgents and their families were resettled in Tap Lan forest under the 66/23 pacification policy, despite some land being occupied before its designation as a national park in 1981.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin remarked that the decision to transfer 42,400 hectares of Thap Lan National Park to settlers was made by the previous government. Referring to the March 14, 2023, resolution by the Prayut Chan-o-cha Cabinet, Srettha noted that he could not comment on the already decided matter. He emphasized that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry would adhere to the law in handling the issue and stressed the importance of listening to public opinions. Those opposing the proposal have launched a campaign, #SaveTapLan, which is gaining significant support and is currently soliciting signatures.

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