More than ten years of negotiations between government officials, local community groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have led to a draft community forest bill which would be Thailand’s first legislation recognising the legal status of communities living in and around Thailand’s National Forest Reserves to use, manage and protect their forests in co-operation with the Royal Forestry Department.
Last year, the bill had been passed by the Lower House but subsequently was blocked by the Upper House (Senate) which proposed amendments that would basically subvert the intent of the bill and could lead to the resettlement of local communities, particularly ethnic minorities, living in protected forests areas such as national parks. After the Senate (Upper House) amended the draft bill, the draft has been returned to the Lower House (LH) for consideration. Although the bill should have come up for consideration by the Lower House in end September, it has now been postponed to January 2003.
A recent Cabinet reshuffle including the establishment of a new Ministry of Natural Resources, as well as some uncertainty with the political fall-out if the Bill is passed, have supposedly been the reasons that led to the postponement of consideration of the bill, according to some sources within government. When the Lower House does consider the Bill, it has two choices: agree to the Senate's amendments and pass the Bill, or disagree in which case a joint parliamentary committee will be set up to consider the bill. Fortunately, the second option seems more likely at this stage. If the joint committee is set up, it is expected to take a month to consider the amendments, make revisions and send the bill back to both houses of Parliament for consideration.
The Senate's amendments to the Bill have also slowed the whole process down, resulting in frustration for local community groups who needed the Bill to be passed as soon as possible to prevent potential displacement from their homes in forest areas.
Local community groups and NGOs in North Thailand are organising a large conference on community forests and inviting the Minister of the newly-formed Ministry of Natural Resources and other politicians to muster political support. In Bangkok, academics organised a seminar for academics to support the original draft Bill passed by the Lower House. NGOs and academics in Bangkok and elsewhere are starting a postcard campaign, and have printed 60,000 postcards supporting that Bill. About 1,000 academics all over Thailand have already signed a letter supporting the Bill. International support from NGOs and academics is also being received (you can sign and send the sample letter posted in the WRM Web page: http://www.wrm.org.uy/alerts/september02.html#1 ). All these signatures and support letters will be presented to Parliament by January 2003.
By Rajesh Daniel, TERRA/PER, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org