Bangkok: The new chief of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department will consider allowing luxury resort operators found guilty of encroaching on forest land to stay open for business.
Manophat Huamuangkaew said he will adopt a "less aggressive" approach toward forest encroachers compared to his predecessor Damrong Pidech.
Mr Manophat, whose position as director-general was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, said he will adopt a "balancing approach" instead.
He said his brief from the government is to strike a balance between natural resources management and economic and social development. He conceded the new approach might include a forest rental programme for those encroaching on forests if the idea is approved.
"The rental measure is an option. But we must make sure that those in the programme are operators whose properties really are encroaching on forest land," Mr Manophat said.
Chief of Thap Lan National Park Thewin Meesap said he is worried park officials might face lawsuits for charges of dereliction of duty if the department does not act to demolish illegal resorts encroaching on national parks.
"If the department no longer acts in the other cases, my staff and I might be in trouble," Mr Thewin said.
He said the department should think of ways to help its officials if complaints or lawsuits are filed against them by environmental groups or members of the public.
Mr Damrong retired as department chief in September this year. He moved to demolish several resorts in Thap Lan National Park and the Wang Nam Khieo area in Nakhon Ratchasima after courts ruled they encroached on forests.
He ordered forestry officers to demolish the resorts in accordance with Article 22 of the National Park Act _ which allows the department to clear out buildings illegally set up in the park _ even though the court did not specifically order the demolition of the properties. The court merely ordered the operators to move out of the area.
Mr Damrong's hardline stance prompted protests and criticism by resort operators and some residents who benefit from tourism activities which the resorts help attract.
Mr Damrong had ordered the verification of charges of illegal forest encroachment by resorts in Sirinart National Park in Phuket, where an initial probe found that about 11 luxury resorts were guilty of encroachment.
Mr Manophat said he would press on with Mr Damrong's work in verifying the Phuket cases but he would demolish those resorts only if the court orders him to do so.
Mr Manophat denied the new policy of compromise reflected a government view that Mr Damrong's actions were mistaken.
"What he did was the right thing at that time. But for the time being, what we are going to do will be based on what will benefit the country," Mr Manophat said.--Courtesy of Bangkok Post