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Displacement and Resettlement Management in Thailand

A study of the displacement and resettlement due to two dams, and a protest movement against a smelting plant in Thailand brings out strikingly similar issues with those seen recently in Orissa and West Bengal - loss of livelihoods, inadequate and delayed compensation, corruption and involvement of government officials, and social disintegration of communities. It brings out the role of resistance through participation of the displaced people and leadership of the local civil society organisations in the process of resettlement management.





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Displacement and Resettlement Management in Thailand

Satya Prakash Dash

A study of the displacement and resettlement due to two dams, and a protest movement against a smelting plant in Thailand brings out strikingly similar issues with those seen recently in Orissa and West Bengal – loss of livelihoods, inadequate and delayed compensation, corruption and involvement of government officials, and social disintegration of communities. It brings out the role of resistance through participation of the displaced people and leadership of the local civil society organisations in the process of resettlement management.

The author acknowledges ICSSR and NRCT for the India-Thailand Research Fellowship grant.

Satya Prakash Dash ( is with the Department of Social Science, FM University, Balasore, Orissa.

Economic & Political Weekly

november 21, 2009

he Mekong basin, spread over an area of 1,69,000 sq km comprises the entire north-east region and a small portion of the northern region of Thailand. In 1991, the population of northeast region was 18.9 million compared to the total population of 46.9 million. Nearly 88% of the population within Mekong basin is rural. The highest density of rural population is along the Chi valley, followed by the Mun valley.

The Mun and the Chi rivers flow through 11 provinces and are the lifelines of north-east Thailand. The major sources of livelihood for the people in this region are subsistence agriculture and fishery.

The present study was conducted in the provinces of Ubon Ratchathani and Prachuap Khiri Khan. While in the former, the Shirinthorn and Pak Mun dams have led to displacement issues, in the latter, local villagers are protesting against the establishment of a privately-owned smelting plant. Another dam called Baan Kum dam has been planned on the Mekong river, but not yet been implemented.

The Shirinthorn dam, on the Lam Dom Noi river was completed in 1971. It has a reservoir area of 288 sq km and a catchment area of 2,097 sq km. The Pak Mun

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dam is infamous for being one of the least successful dam projects. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) constructed it in 1994 to provide hydroelectric power. EGAT has indicated that this is the core benefit of the project and other gains such as fishery, irrigation, etc, were secondary and not necessary.1

In all, around 1,700 households lost part or all of their land, and a further 6,000 households lost part or all of their livelihood when fishing grounds were destroyed. Compensation was paid, but compensation disputes continue, with the displaced complaining that they haven’t been adequately compensated.2

Displacement and Resettlement

Shirinthorn Dam: The group discussion with the families displaced due to the Shirinthorn dam took place at the selfrelocated Lum Dom Noi village. The reason for self-relocation was the distance of the resettlement village from their original village of Hin Lad Thum in Boontarik district and lack of agricultural facility. The self-relocated village is 3 kms from their village and closer to the river. As per the respondents, around 396 families were displaced during that period, i e, the late 1960s. Thai families are usually joint families; on an average, there were seven to nine persons in one family. Sixty families opted for the resettlement colony at Baan Kum Muang, located 50 kms from the original village. Around 200 families moved to Had Sai Koon village in Naja ruay district, and the remaining to the surrounding areas of this village.

The resettlement colony at Baan Kum Muang is a barren rocky land with no


agricultural feasibility or irrigation facility. EGAT gave money for house construction and a total of 15 rai land, including two rai for house construction and 13 rai for agricultural purpose.3 The reason for coming to the resettlement colony, as per one respondent Boonyean Janpeng (60 years), was the massive flooding and consequent devastation in their original village. In the pre-displacement period, her family had two rai of homestead land and 60 rai of agricultural land, which got reduced to 13 rai in the post-displacement period. Another respondent, Thong Kum Jun (57 years), said she shifted to this resettlement colony because her family did not have enough money to buy land at other places. There was no community centre, no temple, no funeral land, no school for children, no healthcare facility, no electricity and no water source in the colony.

Pak Mun Dam: The respondents who were displaced from their villages due to the Pak Mun dam in 1991-92 have relocated to the resettlement colony provided by the EGAT, located 40 kms from the displaced villages. Some opted for selfrelocation in nearer areas. Some households had to settle in forest reserve areas or on other common property as the compensation money was insufficient to buy alternate land. One hundred and fifty five families relocated to Baan Non Sung village in 1993 from their original village at Baan Pak Huay Kan village as it became unsafe due to water surrounding the village almost throughout the year. Six families continue to stay in the old village amidst difficulties.

The village of Baan Hua Haew, which was to be displaced, had 180 families living in it. Initially, EGAT planned to shift 11 families, as they were living very close to the dam site. It constructed 11 houses in the resettlement colony and compelled them to shift despite their unwillingness, owing to the small size of the houses. EGAT later on built 60 houses at another resettlement colony named Baan Hua Haew No 4, and this time the houses were big enough to accommodate joint families.

Compensation and Corruption

The participants in the group discussion said that compensation for the land due to the Shirinthorn dam was given only to those who had the land deeds and records. This is actually the method and practice adopted in India too. This deprived them of compensation, as the government had not given these land records. Compensation was paid only to around 100 out of 296 families. A majority of the people in the Baan Kum Muang resettlement colony had no land records and hence opted to shift to the distant place. The families were given 325 Baht4 as transport allowance. The compensation, in case of the Shirinthorn dam, was given in 1969 and the displaced persons received only half the compensation amount. This amount was in cash and the balance was to be paid in cheque, but it is yet to be paid.

The compensation and resettlement costs for the Pak Mun dam, increased from

231.55 million Baht in EGAT’s 1988 estimates to an actual expenditure of 1113.1 million Baht till 1999. In real terms, this marks a 182% increase. Compensation for loss in fisheries accounted for 395.6 million Baht by April 1999.5 As there was no government policy to include an environmental impact assessment (EIA) in state development projects at the time, EGAT’s proposal contained no study of the dam’s environmental impact on the river ecology, nor did it mention the consequent damage and compensation for fisheries and the fishing communities.

The compensation amount was utilised for house construction, purchase of wood, tin sheets, agricultural and homestead lands. The absence of family conflict with regard to compensation indicates the strong bond among family members. Approximately 15 resettled families of the Shirinthorn dam utilised the compensation amount in business, gambling and drinking and exhausted it without any productive return. Such instances abound in all displacement cases, and thus it is said that displacement impoverishes affected people.

As for corrupt practices in the sanction of the compensation amount, the people displaced by the Shirinthorn dam said that the village leader told them that he would take 20% of the compensation amount to get it sanctioned from the authorities. Since they were ignorant of official procedures, lacked confidence,

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and had no road communication or transportation, they agreed to the proposal. However, none of the villagers have reported to have bribed any government authority. They also wonder whether this amount was paid to any authority or pocketed by the leader.

The officials of the local administrative departments were not sensitive to the villagers’ requirements and often indulged in corrupt practices to show undue favour to the project authorities. The companies/ projects often inducted their family members and relatives in the local administration so as to get favours. The local administration should not be involved in the process of land acquisition, compensation, and resettlement. In one instance, people said that the specifications of the present road construction had been intentionally reduced so that it would get damaged soon and give an opportunity to make money by corrupt practices. Secondly, since the primary occupation is agriculture, they naturally want irrigation facilities in the self-relocated villages.

After resettlement, villagers have witnessed many social and cultural problems. The new social arrangements have disrupted former social relations and changed patterns of interaction among the villagers. The traditional communal ceremony had usually been organised on the riverbank, but now could not be held due to the submergence of the ceremonial site and, in part, due to the social disintegration of the communities (www.

Pak Mun was one of the factors leading to the formation of the Assembly of the Poor (AoP) in 1995, a local Thai nongovernmental organisation (NGO) championing the rights of poor villagers suffering due to large-scale development projects. Since the village of Baan Hua Haew was located near the river, a lot of villagers derived their livelihood from

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fishing, which would be lost if they relocated. EGAT assured the fishing community 15 rai of agricultural land per family in lieu of the loss of their livelihood. Alternately, it assured 35,000 Baht per rai of land, totalling to 5,25,000 Baht. This became possible because the AoP protested and compelled EGAT for this in 1997. In another case study in November 2000, it was reported that

EGAT paid 90,000 Baht to each of the 3,955 fishermen in 1995, and it approved payment of 60,000 Baht each to another 2,200 fishermen in March 2000. Still, a large number of households located upstream of the dam are waiting for compensation (

In the self-relocated village of Ban Non Sung, a group of powerful people claimed that the area of the relocated village was common property and hence the people had no right to stay there. This conflict started four years after their resettlement in the village. These groups have also created hurdles for electrification, road construction, drinking water supply and school facilities for the locals.

Demonstration and Agitation

The resettled villagers of the Shirinthorn dam told us that demonstrations and agitations were unthinkable during the period of displacement in the late 1960s. There was no transportation facility and media had no presence in their area. The villagers were also not educated and thus failed to put forth their grievances before the authorities. There was no one to assist, organise and lead them. The villagers also spoke of a law which provided for arrest and detention if there was a meeting of five or more persons, in connection with any such demonstration and agitation. This created a fear psychosis among them and they silently endur ed it. According to Naruemon Thabchumpon of Chulalongkorn University, “as Ubon Ratchathani is a border province, martial law, which gives enormous power to police and military officials is still applied in this area. That situation forced ordinary villagers not to oppose the project since the beginning because of fear and ignorance.”

The participants said that the local villagers held the first demonstration in 1989 at the Mun dam site. Notably, this

Economic & Political Weekly

november 21, 2009

protest was led by a local woman Charoen Kongsook, and was suppressed by EGAT. After the formation of the AoP, the villagers established contact with it for demonstrations and protests.

On 25 January 1997, villagers from Pak Mun joined the 99-day protest in Bangkok demanding fair compensations for the permanent loss of their fishing livelihood. Land and cash compensation promised by the government in April 1997 was retracted in 1998. From March 1999 villagers again began demonstrations for compensation by the government and the World Bank. On 17 July 2000, Thai police forcibly removed AoP protesters from the area around government house in Bangkok and arrested 200 of them.6 The villagers responded with a mass hunger strike; both parties met for discussion on numerous occasions but with no resolution. Peak fish migration (when fish swim upstream to spawn), takes place at the start of the rainy season (May to July), a period when the dam’s floodgates are rarely opened. On 26 May 2001, the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised to open the Pak Mun gates for a four-month trial period. Since 2005, the dam gates were ordered to remain open from June to September for fishing activities. “This has let varieties of fish species from the Mekong river to breed and spawn in the Mun river. It has resulted in a recovery of the Mun’s river ecology and a resilience of community livelihoods” (Manorom 2007).

Resistance in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province

The local villagers here are resisting the proposed smelting plant of the Sahaviriya group since September 2006. Their opposition to the smelting plant varies from environmental concerns to agriculture, farming, livelihood, preservation of wetland and the tourism sector. The area already has a steel plant, the construction of which started in 1990 and was completed in 1992. The company wants to have a second hot-rolled steel plant. The industry is also planning a port, which is not required as the marine department has a port at a distance of 200 kms.

The local people said that the company bought the land under the garb of Bang

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Saphan Agricultural Company. The villagers, anticipating better scope for agricultural activities, decided to sell their lands. Part of the land acquired by the company is still in dispute as the land acquired is mangrove land, which if destroyed would create environmental hazards and impact fishing activity. The local authority enquired into the allegations of the local villagers and found that out of the 58 plots of land, 56 belong to the public and this accounted for 600 rai of land. Later the local authority sued the company for illegally encroaching public land and producing forged land documents. However, the company managed to get a clean chit from the local authority.

The company also managed to get bank loan (Na Korn Luang Thai Bank) by mortgaging the public land. The government owns 50% share in the bank and the villagers suspect the involvement of govern ment officials in the sanction of the loan.

First, the construction of the smelting plant would severely increase the risk of flooding to this area. Second, there is possibility of coastal erosion due to the accumulation of water and no way for its discharge. Third, the passage for nutrition and sediments to the river where the fish spawn would be blocked. Fourth, the stagnant water would get contaminated, affecting the aquatic life. All these effects would a ffect the local population of four out of the eight sub-districts of Bang Saphan district. The participants in the group discussion apprehend that the establish ment of the smelting plant would encourage other indu strial houses to come to their area. Hence, they are now determined to fight at the policy level for the closure of the plant, and have joined various protest groups. According to them, ecologi cally, the area is a wetland with backwaters and not at all suitable for industrial developme nt.

In another discussion, the participants of the Mae Ramphueng Conservation group said that as per their study and physical verification, the colour of the sea water has changed due to pollution and soil erosion caused by a power plant in the Rayong province. Due to this, the locals are compelled to purchase bottled drinking water and those who cannot afford it suffer from various ailments. They also


said that there is conflict with a group of villagers supporting the smelting plant, which constitutes roughly 20% of the total population of the district. These groups, according to them, are accepting money and other benefits, and sometimes, minor skirmishes also take place between them.

Version of Sahaviriya Group

As per Panalee Buranasiri, public relations manager of the company, they have been in this area for almost 20 years and there is no conflict with the locals. Flooding is not a major problem in this area and the district faces it annually. The canals are very shallow thereby obstructing the passa ge of flood-water. The government has cleared the canals and this has prevented flooding. There is no water contamination, as the company has adopted the policy of zero-discharge of waste water by treating it.

With regard to the allegation of false purchase and forgery in land documents, she said that the land was bought from the villagers in Baan Don Sam Ran area for the smelting plant and not for agricultural industry. The dispute of the wetlands was solved by relocating the site of the proposed smelting plant to the north. The vacant land would be utilised for setting up an Environmental Learning Centre. She added that the smelting plant would provide employment opportunities to the villagers, training at the Bang Saphan polytechnique college and infrastructure development. To support this statement, she said that the existing steel plant has 4,000 employees, 70% of whom are locals.


Pak Mun was the first project where the state agency was forced to pay the social costs, setting a precedent that such costs should be included in the feasibility study of any state project (Thabchumpon 2008). Affected villagers were not consulted in the early stages of decision-making and compensation negotiation began only a fter long protests by the affected communities and NGOs. The post impacts of the Pak Mun dam on the local people have created a ray of hope for subsequent development projects in Thailand. The government is preparing itself for the proposed Baan Kum dam, a joint project of Thailand and Laos. On 10 April 2008, a meeting was held with the civil society groups in Ubon Ratchathani province, (including faculty members of Ubon Ratchathani University and research organisations) to discuss the initial feasibility study report of the proposed dam. This report gives details about the water level in the reservoir, capacity of the dam, cost of investment, flooded areas and communities, data about local livelihoods of people on the banks of the M ekong and potential flooding caused by the dam (Manorom 2008).

According to a political science professor Prudhisan Jumbala at the Chulalongkorn University, in the Pak Mun resettlement and compensation issue, the local leadership and people were not aware of the exact plight because the issue became a national one bypassing the town of Ubon. The consequence of this was that it got greater attention at the national level and gradually lost its grip at the local level. The local members of Parliament of the region are primarily businessmen who have the resources to capture the seats of local authorities, and it is the latter that are more active than the national political leaders. He added that in the present times, there is competition between the industrial and agricultural sectors over the usage of water resources and in the process such conflicts are bound to arise throughout the world. At the global level, such instances abound, and more will follow in the future. This competition is unnecessarily polluting the environment and water, and affecting the health of the people. He emphasised the need of feasibility studies for big projects not only at the regional level but also at the global level so as to strengthen the voice of the people.

Many of the concerns of the local people in the case of the smelting plant in Prachuap are similar to those in the Posco project in Orissa and Singur in West Bengal. Here too, the local villagers opposed the proposed plants for the sake of their livelihood, agriculture, environment and water. Some states in India have a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) policy, guiding such issues. During the completion of the Pak Mun dam in 1994, Thailand did not have a comprehensive R&R policy, and this is attributed for the problems that crept up in the resettlement

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management and compensation, particularly among the fishing community. Again, this resembles the Indian case where the resettlement and compensation issue was earlier dealt on a piece rate basis. However, such problems at the administrative level in India have been ameliorated with the framing of the R&R policy. In Thailand, this is gradually being adopted, as seen for the proposed Baan Kum dam project. Another important dimension of displacement and resettlement is the role of the protest movements and resistance. The support of civil society organisations providing leadership needs to be strengthened and sustained. Compensation alone cannot solve the bitter issue of displacement; it requires the participation of the resettled people in the entire process of resettlement management.


1 See 2, web-page

accessed on 11 June 2009. 3 1 acre = 2.53 rai or 43,560 sq ft or 1,600 sq m. 4 1US$=25 Thai Baht. 5 See 6 See


Chinwanno, Chulacheeb (2009): “Development: Induced Displacement”, SWDnE1.htm, webpage accessed on 11 June.

Manorom, Kanokwam (2007): “Questions of Democratising Water Governance of the Pak Mun Dam in 2007”, MPOWER Research Update. No 9, available on http://www.

– (2008): “The Pak Mun Dam: Consensus Building and Lessons for Mainstream Dams”, conference paper on Pak Mun Movement (Thailand: Ubon Ratchathani University).

Thabchumpon, Naruemon (2008): “Participatory Democracy in Practice: The Struggles of the Anti-Pak Mun Dam Movement”, Discussion paper (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University).

World Bank (1998): EGAT (2001): Report on the Pak Mun Dam, available on kbase/studies/th/th_exec.htm, accessed on 11 June 2009.

The World Bank and Crimes of Globalisation (2009): A Case Study, 22 March 2002, viewed on 11 June (

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