Impact of Climate Change Legal Case to Small Scale Farmers. A Case Story of Amorn Bantha. Trang Province, Thailand
Thirty-nine year old Mr. Amorn Bantha[i], a rubber plantation farmer from Ban Tra Village, Palean District, Trang Province, Thailand, lives together with his wife and three children. In August 2006, government officials served Mr. Bantha with a legal notice that he had been charged with encroachment, deforestation and construction within the boundaries of Khao Phu Khao Yah National Park.
Mr. Bantha explained how he was later called by police officials to provide testimony at Nong Rueang Police Station, Trang Province, where the police officials notified him of the charges he faced. On arriving home that day he began to tell his wife and children what had happened at the police station, but before he was able to finish his story the whole family was in tears. “At that moment I felt incredibly afraid, completely shocked by what was happening. It all happened so quickly – there wasn’t enough time to take it all in.”
Mr. Bantha had heard stories before about villagers who were faced with forestry related legal cases. Usually there were only two possible outcomes – imprisonment or a hefty fine. When Mr. Bantha eventually saw the amount he was to be fined, some 3,181,125 Thai Baht, he felt that both his own and his family’s lives and wellbeing had reached their lowest possible point. He just did not know what to think. “If I could choose between going to jail and paying the fine, then definitely I would pay the fine and continue to live with my family as before. But how could I choose? My family is so poor – our income is only around 7,000-8,000 Thai Baht per month. By myself, I didn’t even have enough money to pay for the trips to the police station to provide testimony.”
“And what would happen when the case went to court? How could my family and I possibly fight the case? We don’t have that kind of knowledge. Our reading and writing skills are not particularly good. All we were able to do was wait for some kind of miracle. My eldest daughter, who at that point had not long started secondary school, told my wife and I that if her father really had to go to jail, she would ask to leave school so that she could tap rubber instead of her father and help her mother to bear the various family duties, because her two younger siblings were then only seven and three years old.
Mr. Bantha summarized the consequences that would arise if he was eventually found guilty and sent to prison: 1) His eldest daughter would have to leave school. 2) His wife would be heavily burdened by having to raise their three children alone. 3) The future of his two youngest daughters would be full of uncertainty because his family would become so poor. 4) His wife and eldest daughter would probably be unable to tap all of the rubber by themselves, potentially forcing them to hire someone to help, which would reduce the family’s income and potentially increase their debts. 5) Perhaps most importantly, another 94 community members in Ban Tra Village alone faced similar charges. If Mr. Bantha lost his case and was imprisoned or fined over three million Thai Baht, this would potentially set a precedent for further legal action on the part of the authorities, which would negatively affect the members of both the local and national land reform networks in Thailand, and even other villagers outside of the networks.
But thanks to collaboration between the Bantad Mountain Range Land Reform Network and Thailand Land Reform Network in continuously following up the problems of the villagers in order to provide assistance to the 94 individuals facing charges, in early February 2010 the Thailand Land Reform Network was able to present the problems of its members to the National Committee to Resolve the Problems of the Thailand Land Reform Network.[ii] Eventually a negotiation meeting was arranged with Thailand’s Senior Public Prosecutor at Government House on 11 February 2010, with the result that the Senior Public Prosecutor ordered Trang Province’s Public Prosecutor to repeal the charges against all 94 villagers.
Interviewed by Methi Singsutham
Local Action Links
[i] Mr. Amorn Bantha is a member of both the Bantad Mountain Range Land Reform Network and the Thailand Land Reform Network.
[ii] The National Committee to Resolve the Problems of the Thailand Land Reform Network was established on 11 March 2009 following continued pressure and repeated demonstrations by the Thailand Land Reform Network. The network was established and is chaired by the Prime Minister of Thailand.