Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has promised to deliver "happiness" as New Year gifts to low-income people.
"Through projects to be launched by various ministries, people will get free stuff and access to low-priced products," Prayut said yesterday.
He pointed out that relevant authorities had already worked on projects to extend help to people affected by his government's efforts to better regulate land use and prevent forest encroachment. Some encroachers are poor, landless and have nowhere to go.
If the prime minister gives a nod to preparations of the 'community land plots for livelihoods' plan this Friday, the handout of over one million rai of land to the landless will begin as early as January.
While the plan is reminiscent of the previous government's much-criticised policies, Natural Resources and Environment Minister General Dapong Rattanasuwan insists that it is different.
"What we do has accountability. We will have a reliable system to check land size and groups of people who are granted the right to use community land plots every six months. Absolutely, there will be no nominees," he said yesterday.
Dapong spoke after attending a meeting with representatives from relevant agencies such as the Royal Forest Department (RFD), the Agricultural Land Reform Office, and the Lands Department.
At the meeting, they discussed the plan to allocate 1.05 million rai of land as "community land plots" to landless people.
Dapong said this plan would be different from land allocation schemes in the past.
"This is not a populist scheme. It is designed to solve land problems and give opportunities to the poor," he said.
Degraded forests for handouts
RFD director general Theerapat Prayunrasiddhi said the land plots for handouts would be degraded forest zones.
"Under the new scheme, land plots won't be given to individuals but a community or a group of individuals," he explained.
Implementation would be done via the National Land Police Committee, which has Prayut as its chair and Dapong as the deputy chair.
Theerapat said the land plots would not be given to individuals like what happened in the past, because some recipients were found to have sold plots they were allocated to investors and encroached on forest zones again.
Now, the RFD is in the process of examining who should be entitled to get land plots under the new scheme.
According to Theerapat, the government is also preparing to hand out community forest to 260 communities across the country.
"It can begin in January," he said.
Kridsakorn Silarak, coordinator of the People's Movement for a Fair Society (P-Move), saw the government's recent moves as populist efforts.
But he said: "They are not solutions that will facilitate efficient land management."
Kridsakorn also did not think the Lands Department plan to offer public fields and former graveyards to the landless would be of much use, given there were very few such plots. "Most of those plots have already been registered as public-use land plots," he said.
Kridsakorn believed the government was better to look at "overlapping areas" where communities have lived for a long time but have been unable to secure land-rights documents.
"More than 500 communities are now waiting for the issuance of community title deeds," he said.
Northeastern land reform network representative Niwat Kotjuintuk also believed community title deeds would be a good solution.
He said the government's land-distribution plans were not new ideas.
"We have had such plans in |place already including the Sor Por Kor 4-01 that is allocated as part of agricultural land reform," Niwat said.