MYO THAR TOWNSHIP, Mandalay Division — Farmers, residents and monks living around the site of the planned Myo Thar Industrial Park project in Mandalay division are complaining about encroachment on farmland, unfair compensation and the threat posed by the project to a religious site.
The industrial park is planned for 10,000 acres of land which has been taken from farmers living in at least 13 surrounding villages, and includes about 60 acres of a Buddhist monastery.
“Since we are going to lose almost all our land, what will we do for our living?” asked Aye Thin, a farmer from Paedaw village, Nga Zun Township, who said she has lost 70 acres of farmland, and that 20 acres more is at risk from the development.
“They said this project will give us job opportunities, but how can we earn enough for the living as we know only about planting crops.”
The project is being developed by Burmese company Royal Hi-Tech Group. The companies have begun demarcating the borders of the development using mechanical diggers. Some farmers say the diggers are encroaching on land that is not included in the announced project zone.
“They start digging on our land that is not being confiscated. We were told that this land is also in the project area, but actually we were not informed about that,” Aye Thin said.
“We pleaded to them not to dig, but they said we don’t have the power to order them. It seems we are going to lose every inch of our land.”
Farmers who are unable to show land ownership documents said they are forced to take 500,000 kyat, about US$520, as compensation for each acre of land. Others who have the document received 2 million kyat, about $2,080, per acre.
“Our land was owned and inherited from generation to generation, so how can we present the papers?” said Soe Nyunt from Nawarat village, who said he lost 20 acres of farmland, but was only compensated for 6 acres.
“However, no matter how much we get for compensation, we just want land to work on for we know nothing apart from farming.”
“I know how much land I have, but how can I argue with them. They said they’ve measured the land with machines, so it can’t be wrong,” he said. “I just want to tell the authorities to treat us fairly with justice and transparency.”
Farmers and local also complained that while the project’s stated size is 10,000 acres, nearly 20,000 acres of lands has been confiscated.
Apart from the complaints of unfair compensation and encroachment, locals are concerned about 60 acres of lands occupied by the Yarzawin Tawya Kyaung monastery in I Thar village.
U Wilartha, an abbot at the monastery, said only about 22 acres of more than 85 acres occupied by the monastery has been registered as religious land.
“The local land registration office refused to register the remaining land without any reason,” he said. “That land is in the project area, we think that is why they would not issue the registration papers for that land.”
He said that the land was donated by the farmers and the locals to the monastery since 1975, but now might be lost. Moreover, religious buildings, a home for the elderly, pagodas and a 135-feet-high Buddha statue—under construction since 2010—are at risk.
“We just want the area to be safe from confiscation as part of the project. For us, we can take this as karma, but if this happen, the donors and the locals will not be happy. That’s why we’ve requested the authorities behind this project not to take these lands and the religious buildings to be part of the project,” U Wilartha said.
Aung Win Khine, president of Mandalay Myothar Industrial Development public company, said that the compensation had been accepted by 90 percent of the farmers on the 10,000 acres.
He said the land in the area had been low value as farmland due to unreliable weather in the area, but was now rising from its initial value of about 30,000 kyat per acre.
“Before, this area was deserted. It seems land brokers are stirring up problems as the area begins to be developed, with the development of transportation infrastructure and the price of the land increasing dynamically. We heard that some land was being sold through the brokers and becoming complicated,” he explained.
“We believe the farmers will able to get new land with the compensation if they only want to do planting. They will have access to electricity and clean water to the area as that being developed too.”
Aung Win Khine ruled out more compensation for the farmers, but insisted the project would not affect the monastery.
“We will not disturb the land owned by monasteries and religious buildings. We are discussing about the religious land and will work with care to have a solution,” he added.
The project began in 2012 with the permission of the Madalay Division government, and is to be constructed by Aung Win Khine’s company, Royal Hi-Tech Group.
Myo Thar Industrial Park, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Mandalay city, will be connected to Semeikhon port, a development by the same companies on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. The developers have said the project will create 200,000 jobs for local people.