08 March 2009

Theparak Lease Agreements

Even before entering the Theparak Slum community, the divide between renters and non-renters is visible. 40 years ago, in a movement to meet the demand for labor created by the railroad construction project, rural families created a community on trackside land owned by the State Railroad of Thailand (SRT). When the railroad was completed so to was the need for labor, but the families continued to live in the communities they had formed. Many found work in the informal sector - driving taxis, scavenging, or doing construction to support their costly new city life.

In 1999, in an effort to offset operating losses, SRT headquarters ordered all of its sub-districts, including Khon Kaen, to privatize all valuable land assets. This notice shed light on the fact that hundreds of people were currently living illegally on SRT land. It became apparent that privatizing this land would require either evicting the current residents or establishing lease agreements. The former would allow for outside investors while the latter would legalize the communities already in place.

As of today, most of the communities built on this land have negotiated lease agreements as it offers the most security in terms of avoiding eviction. A few of the communities, however, are yet to reach an agreement. For security reasons, all homes that lie within the 20m closest to the tracks must be relocated if leases are to be signed. This has led to division within some communities, making an agreement difficult and eviction more and more likely every day.

For the time being, a distinction between villages along the tracks has formed which was never visible in the past. In one section of the railroad, one can see more than just the physical divide between the communities on either sides of the track. On one side is a privatized community with lease agreements from SRT. The homes have solid concrete walls and suitable roofs, a reflection of the investment of both time and money. The homes on the other side of the track, however, are yet to reach an agreement. The structures are run down, with slanted tin roofs and makeshift tin walls. The stark contrast in living conditions is not a result of the villager’s economic status; but rather a reflection of the level of trust they have in the future; a direct result of privatization. Families without leasing agreements are reluctant to invest their money into their homes because they are unsure of their future.

It would be foolish, for example, for families in a community without a lease agreement to invest in their homes due to the uncertainty of their future. Privatization of land allows homeowners to safely invest the money that they already have into their homes, increasing their wellbeing through confidence. Investment will always be the backbone of development and having that investment come from one’s own pocket is the most holistic approach. It is important, however, to make sure that investments are in line with one’s expectations for the future. Privatization of land affords more certainty for the future, which is vital to development.

-- Tyler Jackson, Occidental College

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