A decade passes but people in Orong and Martshala still await land substitution

Even a decade after the government acquired their land for developmental purpose, two households in Orong have yet to receive their land substitution. The government, during land acquisition, had offered the affected households the choice of cash compensation equal to the land value in that year or the land substitute.

While those households who opted for cash compensations got paid within a year, those that demanded land substitute are still waiting for the substitution.

The government in 2005 had acquired about 32 acres of lands from six households in Orong in Samdrup Jongkhar to build the Orong Higher Secondary School. From among the 11 affected households, four opted to take the cash compensation for the land they lost, while remaining two households wanted land substitution.

Gyeltshen and Apai of Orong village had surrendered an acre each for the school construction. According to them, it was their finest piece of arable land where they grew cash crops like potatoes, vegetables, and the staple crop maize.

Although they wanted their lands to be substituted rather than receive cash compensation, they years have passed, but there is no sign of getting their land substitution. Despite running to different offices and seeing concerned officials, they could not get the land substitution.

Gyeltshen said that given his small land holdings, he could not afford to go for cash compensation. “I have been waiting so long to get the compensation and land thram,” he said.

He said that they are really disappointed with land substitution failing to make any headway.

“It has been 9 years since the government took our lands and the government has yet to give us the land substitution,” he said.

According to Gyeltshen, as per what the government directed then, they selected plot of land.

“We were then told that we can look for suitable land from any area,” he said, adding, “But when we recently put up the proposal, it was rejected and the reason cited was that that new land act requires land substitution to be done from within the gewog if not available within the same dzongkhag.”

But he said during the time when the government took their farmland, the requirement was not so.

“Moreover, we cannot find the similar type of land the government took from us in the area stipulated by land act.” He said that the land they lost had road accessibility, had electricity connection, and other social amenities. “Now, it is difficult to find the land with access to such amenities in the gewog and dzongkhag.”

Everyone chose their land out of their gewog when they could not find the land of same value and the land commission did the survey. People waited for their thram and gung number, but they received a letter saying that they have to look for the land within their gewog only, which disappointed the people.

Gup of Orong gewog, Khawjay said that households are not willing to take the substitute land where there are no social facilities. He said the land of same value is not readily available around. “Those available are in isolated areas which people don’t want,” he added.

In a similar case, one and half acres of land from two households in Martshala in Samdrup Jongkhar was acquired in 2011 to build Basic Health Unit Grade II. Even in Martshala, land substitution to two households has not been done by the government.

Phurba Wangdi is yet to receive 95 decimal plot of land and Drungtsho Wangdi is also supposed to receive 55 decimal of land substitution.

They too lost the finest arable land in which they grew cash crops like potatoes, vegetables and the staple crop maize.

According to Martshala Gup Yenten Dorji, people looked for the land substitution away from their gewog and their land got surveyed once. “Now when the Land Act does not allow such rights, people harass the local leaders,” he said.

He further said that affected households are not willing to take land which is isolated and do not have social amenities.

According to the National Land Commission, the land compensation to those affected people was delayed when the Land Act 2007 did not allow people to choose land from other gewogs. The Land Act 2007 stipulates that all land substitution to those affected by acquiring land for the developmental activities should be done from within the same gewog, and if not available should be done from within the same dzongkhag.

However, the officials from the commission have arrived in Martshala on June 19 to survey the proposed land which then will be allotted to the affected households. They will then proceed to Orong after completing land survey in Martshala.

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