4 years later Phobjikha land case still stuck with the High Court

One of Anti Corruption Commission’s first controversial corruption cases, the Phobjika land transfer case is still in the High Court since November 2007.

The high court is yet to come out with any judgment on the case which was forwarded to them from the Wangdue Phodrang District Court in November 2007.

Meanwhile both the OAG and the ACC have said that officially they are still waiting for the judgment.

“We have submitted the statement to the high court and from our side it is closed, since it is in the court we cannot comment on it. We are waiting for the judgment,” said the Attorney General, Phuntsho Wangdi.

High Court judges and administrative officials were either not aware or not willing to share information on the status of the Phobjika land transfer case. Some of them pleading ignorance said that the concerned people who were there when the case first came to the high court have since been transferred.

The delay in the Phobjika case for the last four years is contrary to the judicial system of giving verdicts within 12 months.

The delay is also a violation of the Judicial code of conduct as under clause 26’ “A Drangpon shall submit the list of those cases which are unduly delayed and pending before him”.

Under this code of conduct, the High Court  is supposed to inform informed the Supreme Court, Chief Justice delay in any cases beyond 12 months. This was not done as the Supreme Court is officially not aware of the status of the Phobjika case which is still in the High court.

The Phobjika land case is one of the 34 cases forwarded by the ACC to the OAG’s office, and which are currently sub-juice (pending) before various courts.

Of the 34 cases, 20 are before the high court and the rest are in Dzongkhag court. Of the 34 cases 11 have been recently filed while 23 were filed earlier.

The Phobjika case dates back to 2001 when Yab Ugen Dorji had been offered 4.5 acres of land by the people of Phobjika to set up a dairy farm. Yab Ugyen Dorji in return gave Nu 90,000 to the community as a gesture of gratitude.

Former Wangdue Dzongda, Dasho Pem L. Dorji at the time had helped process the transfer of the ownership and the former judge Kuenzang Tobgay had given the ownership transfer order in one day.

However, later the National Land Records Office in Thimphu, rejected the land transfer on the grounds that the land in question was government owned land.

Finally in 2006, an anonymous complaint was filed with the ACC, after which an investigation was carried out. The ACC after investigation forwarded the case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for legal prosecution.

The OAG in 2007 charged former Wangdue Dzongda, Dasho Pem L. Dorji, former Phobji Gup, Wangchuk, former district Drangpon, Kuenzang Tobgye and the former Phobjikha Chimi, Passang Dorji. They were charged for misinforming the court that the 4.5 acre land was community owned when they knew it was government owned amongst other charges.

Dasho Pem L. Dorji and Phobji Gup, Wangchuk were also charged for corruption as the OAG said that the two of them knew already that the land in question was government land. The OAG said that both had signed the land survey records in 1998 and 1999 where the land was registered as government land.

The Wangdue Phodrang Court’s verdict on September 5, 2007, acquitted all four of any corruption charges. In the case of Dasho Pem L. Dorji and Phobji Gup, Wangchuk corruption charges were dropped because the court said that there was no proof that they had gained or had an intention to gain from their actions thereby engaging in corruption.

Instead along with Chimi, Passang Dorji administrative action was recommended against them for the lapses. The judgment also said that they could not be charged under certain sections of the Penal code which did not exist in 2001.

Drangpon Kuenzang was cleared on the grounds that there is no provision in the law that states that a court should withhold the issuance of an ownership transfer order for a minimum period of one month in such cases of free transfer of land.

Yab Ugyen Dorji was not made a party to the case as the ACC did not find any legal violations on his part. Moreover, he had requested Dasho Pem L Dorji for any available land for a dairy farm and was not aware that land offered to him by the community was government land.

In September 2007 after the case was appealed from the district court to the high court, only two hearings were conducted where the same charges were levied again with additional inputs from ACC. After for more than four years the High Court has still not come out with any verdict either vindicating the verdict of the Wangdue Phodrang court or overruling it.

The inspection report submitted on 20th July 2003 reported that there were 1557 (including six cases of 1993) pending cases that were of more than 18 months. With constant monitoring and inspection, there were only 27 cases as of April 2007, which are pending for more than 18 months.

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