CHIANG RAI – General Dapong Rattanasuwan, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, said the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and the Royal Forest Department will forbid local people from entering forest zones in the North to prevent them from engaging in slash and burn farming activities.
The restriction is imposed on 10 northern provinces hit by severe haze pollution — Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phrae, Phayao, Tak and Uttaradit.
Gen Rattanasuwan said “To enter forest zones in these provinces, locals will first need to obtain permission from the authorities,” The cabinet decided Wednesday to put his ministry in charge of haze pollution control.
The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives will register villagers who collect food from forests or plant crops there. Authorities will also explain the need to halt slash and burn farming.
Gen Rattanasuwan told the Bangkok Post, Previously we just asked for their cooperation, but it didn’t work, “It’s time for Law Enforcement”, Legal measures are needed to punish offenders because the haze is having a severe impact on residents’ health.
The levels of harmful air particles continue to exceed safety standards of 120 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/cu m) in at least six towns.
On Wednesday in Chiang Rai the level was 381 ug/cu m, followed by Mae Hong Son at 251 µg/cu m, Chiang Mai at 235 µg/cu m, Phayao at 228 µg/cu m, Lamphun at 215 ug/cu m and Lampang at 186 ug/cu m, according to the Pollution Control Department.
The blanket of haze has also forced airlines to cancel several flights to the North in recent weeks and foreign tourists have called off trips and hotel reservations.
Authorities have arrested 10 people on charges of setting forests on fire to prepare land for farming. Six of them set fire in national parks and protected forests.
By law, lighting forest fires is an offence that carries a fine up to 50,000 baht and a five-year prison sentence.
In national parks, the fine is up to 100,000 baht and a term of up to seven years in jail.
Forests hotspots are monitored by satellite, and if the number of hotspots decreases as a result of the ban, his department’s efforts will be deemed a success.
Col Sirichan Ngathong, the army’s deputy spokeswoman said, Singapore’s two Chinook helicopters will keep carrying water baskets to douse fires.
Col Sirichan said the Army Aviation Centre also deployed one MI-17 transport helicopter and two UH-1H choppers on the haze mission. The army has asked the Royal Thai Air Force to deploy a C-130 transport aircraft to help out.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will meet state agencies tomorrow to draft a short-term plan to curtail the fires, including a national forest fire unit.
The ministry will also push for a long-term national plan on haze pollution.