Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has put the brakes on a plan to cut down 2,000 teak trees in Chiang Mai for the construction of the new parliament building, following opposition from residents.
The decision was revealed Tuesday by acting Royal Forest Department chief Pralong Dumrongthai.
He said the prime minister telephoned Natural Resources and Environment Minister Surasak Karnjanarat to stop the plan to chop down the trees at a teak plantation in Mae Ho Phra forest park, which is owned by the FIO in Chiang Mai’s Doi Saket district.
He said the Forestry Industry Organisation (FIO) was contacted by the new parliament construction project contractor to supply 2,000 teak trees to be used in the construction of the 12-billion-baht complex in the Kiakkai area of Bangkok.
Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction Plc is the construction’s contractor.
The FIO chose the trees planted in the forest for the construction, but faced resistance from local communities and local governing bodies, Mr Pralong said.
Opposition to the plan to cut down the trees also has gone viral on social media.
The department has now stopped any plans to fell the trees at the behest of the prime minister, Mr Pralong said, adding that the next move for the contractor may be to buy trees from abroad or from the FIO.
The FIO was granted a 30-year concession on July 25, 1985 to plant teak trees in the forest park covering 9,246 rai, located in the Khun Mae Kuang forest reserve.
The concession was granted under the National Forest Reserve Act.
The concession expired on July 24 last year, and the FIO is seeking to renew the concession, Mr Pralong said.
He added the renewal needs approval from residents, who have opposed such a move as they want to have the trees preserved.
Mr Pralong said not a single tree has been cut down, and authorities had only surveyed the area.
The Natural Resources and Environment said the contractor’s planned purchase of the trees from the FIO was a standard business practice.
The ministry also denied claims on social media that the cutting of the trees was ordered by some phu yai (people in high positions).
The ministry said it has acknowledged the concerns of residents and has now ordered logging in the Mae Ho Phra forest park stopped.
The government has a clear policy to increase forest area, which the prime minister aimed to follow in his instructing the ministry to turn the FIO’s forest park into a national forest reserve and devise measures to protect and preserve it.
Panudet Kerdmali, secretary-general of the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation, yesterday praised Gen Prayut for heeding the concerns of residents and halting the plan to fell the trees.
Pheu Thai Party acting secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said the decision taken by the prime minister was appropriate.
Former Pheu Thai MP Tree Danpaibul said while the FIO had legal permission to plant and sell the trees, it would be wise and proper for it to listen to the voices of residents before embarking on such plans.
The progress of work on the new parliament building is only around 20% complete, said Saithip Chaowalittawil, secretary-general of the House of Representatives.
Delays have been blamed on the slow pace of land transfers to the contractor and problems with soil removal in the long-running project.
She said one reason for the delay is that parts of the construction site are still occupied by about 98 households in the Textile Organisation community and for that reason cannot be handed over to the contractor.
People in the 98 households have not yet moved out, even though they already received compensation and new accommodation has also been arranged for them, Ms Saithip said.