Seized land earmarked for botanical gardens

PHUKET CITY: The Phuket Provincial Land Reform Office plans to establish botanical gardens on plots of agricultural reform (SorPorKor) land previously held by three Phuket tycoons.

The land was returned to the state last year in three separate Supreme Court rulings that found the tycoons did not qualify to occupy the land because they were not poor farmers.

Land Reform Office Chief Teerawut Tawornpatanavong told the Gazette that his office had issued SorPorKor titles to 546 people since August, 1993, when the SorPorKor 4-01K program was established by the Democrat government in power at that time.

The program aimed to allow landless farmers to use degraded Royal Forest Department land for farming, but a scandal erupted when it was later found that 11 wealthy Phuket residents were among the recipients, including current Phuket MP Tossaporn Thepabutr.

The scandal is considered key to the downfall of the Democrat-led government that was dissolved in 1995.

Of the 33,395 rai earmarked for the project in Phuket, SorPorKor rights were granted on 10,769 rai before the program was suspended here, K. Teerawut told the Gazette.

Thus far, the office has revoked rights to 2,676 rai of SorPorKor land from 133 people. Many of the revocations followed surveys in 2003 that revealed the land was not being farmed. In many cases, the holders had occupied land beyond the plot boundaries, K. Teerawut said.

In cases such as that of K. Tossaporn, the plaintiffs were able to present documents such as tax payment certificates to show that they or their forbears had occupied the land for some time. However, the documents presented were not full title deeds (Chanote) and the “owners” needed court approval to continue occupying the land, he explained.

The boom in the tourism industry and rising land prices have made agriculture less viable in Phuket. Therefore, the Land Reform Office plans to create botanical gardens on SorPorKor land reclaimed from K. Tossaporn (98 rai in Karon), Banlue Tantiwit (69 rai in Patong), and Charearn Thavornwongwongse (15 rai in Kamala).

Botanical gardens would help both environmental restoration and tourism promotion, he said. “The land formerly held by K. Banlue is well suited for tourism as it is along Tri Trang Beach in Patong, but K. Tossoporn’s [former] land is too distant from the road for this,” K. Teerawut said.

The Land Reform Office will prepare a budget request and ask for seedlings and other resources needed for the project from the Phuket Provincial Agriculture Office, he added.

In total, there have been 42 legal cases regarding SorPorKor land in Phuket. Thirty cases were lodged with the Administrative Court by people trying to reclaim SorPorKor rights that have been revoked. One case has already been ruled on and another withdrawn, leaving 28 cases, K. Teerawut said.

There are also 12 civil court cases pending, including several claims of illegal excavation, two claims of deforestation near the Kathu Waterfall, and four claims of encroachment near Wat Luangphu Supha in Chalong. In all four of these cases, the encroachers have been found guilty and are awaiting sentencing, K. Teerawut said.

Phuket News
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