Phuket Provincial Land Office and other related agencies are conducting an investigation after an alert was raised online that a backhoe was seen digging soil and loading it on heavy trucks in Kamala Hills. The plot measuring just over 4 rai is believed to be within a protected forest reserve.
The case was brought to light by the Isra News Agency. On May 5 it reported that excavation was ongoing in the hills of Kamala “near the famous golf course”. The agency published photos of a backhoe and two trucks working at what looks like a construction site on a steep slope. The agency provided coordinates of the site as 7°56’09.599"N; 98°21’44.639"E claiming it is “90 meters above sea level” and is “on a slope of more than 35 percent”.
“Excavating soil in such steep hill areas without permission from relevant authorities may be in violation of many laws,” Isra wrote, adding that they cannot exclude a possibility of encroachment on protected forest reserve.
On May 6, the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department (PR Phuket) posted an announcement saying that the aforementioned information is now being investigated.
PR Phuket noted that “relevant agencies have inspected the said area and it appears that it is an area operated by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)”. The information had reference to “Somchai Jitlang, Director of the Phuket Forest Center”.
PR Phuket didn’t elaborate on the EGAT connection any further, saying instead that later another inspection was conducted by the order from Kathu District Chief Siwat Rawangkul who assigned a team of officials to check the site. The team included officials from Phuket Forestry Center, Phuket City Forest Protection and Development Unit, Kathu District Office and other agencies.
The team failed to find anybody at the site and no construction machinery was present at the moment of the inspection. Yet, officers took pictures of the site with signs of excavation visible. The photos were posted by PR Phuket.
“The team examined the plot according to satellite coordinates (GPS). The result showed that the area where the soil was excavated, with a total area of 4 -2-91 rai, is within Mueang Phuket District in the area of Kamala Mountains National Reserved Forest, Muang District, Phuket Province,” PR Phuket reported.
“Late Mr Cherng Namkaew came into the area to take care of the said plot and explained that a Nor Sor 3 land title deeds for 12-1-52 rai of land in Kathu District was issued on January 30, 1983. Mr Cherng said he hired a backhoe to excavate the land for donations to nearby temples and schools and he was also assigned by the rural road district to help open the Kathu – Koh Kaew route, so excavation had been conducted since May 2, 2022,” the report continued.
As per PR Phuket announcement, officials are now checking all the information related to the case, including:
- If the real excavation site is within the boundaries of the specified Nor Sor 3 plot;
- If the land documents for the plot are correct and genuine;
- If Koh Kaew administration indeed has assigned somebody to conduct works in the area;
- If all relevant permissions were granted for excavation (if any were needed).
“Phuket Forestry Center will summarize the facts and report the results of the audit to all relevant sectors”, PR Phuket concluded.