CHIANG RAI – Maj-Gen Pornchai Duriyaphan, deputy director of the Chiang Rai Internal Security Operation Command, has reported that Soldiers, Chiang Rai Forestry Officials and Provincial Police teamed up to halt the construction of a huge pagoda on a Chiang Rai hilltop by followers of Wat Dhammakaya.
Maj-Gen Pornchai Duriyaphan said authorities from the three different authorites stormed the hilltop in Thoeng district of the northern province following a complaint of forest incursion, as reported in Thai PBS.
The raid was authorized and order by the National Council for Peace and Order.
Maj-Gen Pornchai Duriyaphan said they discovered that a vast area had been landscaped and many trees cut to make way for the construction of a huge pagoda.
Thirty concrete supporting piles had been hammered into the ground while a dozen were laid on the ground, the report said.
No workers were on the site when authorities arrived, but worker camps were built and construction equipment and materials were left there.
Authorities impounded all the equipment there and put up a sign ordering construction to stop definitely.
Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani, one of biggest and most ostentatious in Asia, is supported by billions of baht in donations, some of them from high-profile business figures. It has come under frequent criticism for its implicit message that the more money people give, the more merit they can obtain.
The investigation revealed that a village headman had sold the piece of land atop the hill for 3 million baht to construct the pagoda. It was later found that the land in question was encroached forest land so the construction was illegal.
Influential local authorities subsequently were lobbied to facilitate the construction, with a claim that a top government official would chair the opening of the pagoda.
Maj Gen Pornchai said authorities were now looking for those responsible.