An Alro boundary marker found in a forest reserve near Khao Yai in a fresh examination on Friday by Mr. Chaiwat. Several of these were alleged of marking the plots subject to distribution for a hotel owner. Photo: ©Thiti Wannamontha

One Map be used to settle dispute over overlapping boundaries between national parks and agricultural reform land

Senior officials from the Agriculture Ministry and Monre held a meeting yesterday to settle their dispute over the overlapping boundaries and territories between national parks and agricultural reform land (Alro land) under their supervision, agreeing to resolve it through One Map mechanisms

The meeting, co-chaired by Permanent Secretaries of the Agriculture Ministry and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry (Monre), Mr. Prayoon Inskul and Mr. Jatuporn Buruspat, agreed to have the resolutions made by the One Map Committee and the National Land Policy Board (NLPB) as a final say over the issue. It’s roughly estimated by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) that the overlapping area is over 200,000 rai. (Read: State agricultural reform land encroaches over 200,000 rai of nation parks nationwide)

Mr. Jatuporn said Monre proposed to the Agriculture Ministry an approach undertaken under the NLPB’s directives, under which “One Map” is a key part, citing any changes of state land need mandatory endorsement. The NLPB was set up under the Prayut government as a prime policy body over this long-standing issue. Under its One Map initiative, overlapping boundaries of state land nationwide will be re-visited and adjusted based on the use of a more detailed and precise map with a ratio of 1:4000. The One Map Committee will supervise the work alongside its sub-committees before forwarding their work to the NLPB for endorsement.

Mr. Prayoon agreed with the proposal, citing the two ministries will take the two bodies’ resolutions as their final say and take action accordingly. They will prioritise cases and quickly forward them to the bodies to help settle first, Mr. Prayoon said.

“The two ministries agreed to adhere to the NLPB’s resolutions following the One Map Committee’s proposals and take action accordingly,” said Mr. Prayoon.

The meeting to settle the land dispute between the two ministries today at Government House. Credit: Monre

Monre also proposed the implementation of Article 64 of the DNP’s new National Parks Act for their overlapping territories. Under Article 64, original landowners who have overlapping claims over land with national parks are endorsed to live within the parks’ boundaries. This is similar to Alro’s practice, and Monre viewed it’s already in practice and can be implemented in replacement of Alro’s to help quickly resolve the issue over their overlapping claims.

However, the Agriculture Ministry did not confirm whether they agreed with this proposal as this means Alro (Agricultural Land Reform Office) has to hand over its land to the DNP. The ministry just agreed to help preserve Alro land plots that have proved to be critical to the survival of wildlife or are wildlife corridors in Alro land.

To expedite their examination of the overlapping boundaries in the meantime, new working groups comprising officials from both sides will conduct ground checks over overlapping areas nationwide and report back within 30 days, DNP chief, Mr. Athapol Charoenshunsa said. Unsettled cases by the working group will then be forwarded to the One Map Committee and its sub-committees as such, he added. It’s expected that the conflict at Khao Yai National Park could be settled by the NLPB’s resolution within two months.

In mid-February, the DNP’s National Parks director, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn led forest officials to remove over 20 Alro boundary markers in the overlapping land plots in Haew Pla Kang in Tambon Moo Si, citing it’s within Khao Yai National Park. His action led to further investigation and complication over the issue between the two agencies and ministries, which found no end despite an intervention by the PM, Mr. Srettha Thavisin, himself. 

The conflict reached its height on Friday when the two agencies took turns issuing unprecedented statements insisting on their accurate stances. Mr. Chaiwat was also charged by Alro for invading its land plots and removing its markers.

In the future, Alro was instructed at the meeting to set up joint panels comprising at least nine agencies concerned to help cross-check and verify boundaries before Alro starts its land distribution procedures to ensure that Alro’s land boundaries will not overlap with the others. 

Alro used to authorise an agricultural land reform committee and those at provincial levels to perform the task, but this mandate was revoked a few years back by the new Alro regulation, which has transferred this authority to Alro’s Secretary General and Alro provincial offices, the point that Monre remarks that it could undermine a check and balance system in determination of  Alro’s land boundaries.

Alro Secretary General, Mr. Vinaroj Supsongsuk, revealed that he has sent a letter to Governors who chair Alro provincial committees nationwide to set up such a joint panel under the provincial committees nationwide. Mr. Vinaroj said the revocation of their mandates followed the instruction made by the Council of State. 

To ensure that Alro works with prudence and to clear the air, Mr. Prayoon said the Agriculture Ministry has instructed its inspectors to revisit qualifications of farmers who have received Alro land use right certificates nationwide. No deadline was set, however.

According to previous examinations conducted shortly after the coup, Alro had reported that more than 400,00 rai of its land reform plots had changed hands. No reports of successful reclamation over those plots were made to the public by Alro either.

Recently, Alro has issued a new policy and regulation to turn these certificates into “land deeds for agriculture”, prompting concerns that they could play a role in a rapid increase in overlapping territories between Alro land plots and national parks nationwide. Land right policy experts and conservationists have demanded Alro to drop this policy, but no response has been made by Alro so far. 

| A fresh examination on Alro boundary markers in a forest reserve near Khao Yai by Mr. Chaiwat and Monre’s Chief Inspector-General Cheewapap Cheewatham. Photos: ©Thiti Wannamontha

Alro was set up in the mid of 1970s following agricultural land reform which was acknowledged widely as one of the country’s most progressive policies as it attempted to address inequalities among the citizens, especially the poor or landless farmers, who had lost their farmland and become rentees of their own land that changed hands to the rich since the country expedited its development in the 1950s with rice growing for export.

Promulgated in 1975, the Agricultural Land Reform Law addressed this critical issue of the country and came up with a prime approach of purchasing land from the rich or expropriation of state land in order to allocate them to the poor.

However, Alro had not accomplished in doing this mission. In the mid-1980s, the governments at that time handed over more than 30 million rai of forest reserves to Alro to help allocate them to the poor, given a number of them had already lived in the forests.

Along with other types of land it had acquired, Alro has managed to allocate over 40 million rai. Of these, over 1.6 farmers have occupied 2.27 million land plots for more than five years, sized around 22 million rai in total, being eligible to turn their certificates to land deeds for agriculture following the new Alro policy.