The Cabinet, in a meeting held on February 17, decided to close down the Education City project based on the several legal issues and objections raised by the National Land Commission over the proposed allotment of 1,000 acres of land to the project.
The first half of the meeting saw a presentation from the Bhutan Education City (BEC) secretariat on the issue of legality of the land and the views of the National Land Commission (NLC).
A reliable source told The Bhutanese that after the presentation was made and the BEC secretariat team left, the Cabinet held a discussion to decide on the matter.
The Cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, unanimously agreed that the government could not be party to any illegal decision or contravention of the law and so the only available option would be to close down the project.
The Cabinet directed the BEC board chairperson Lyonpo Dorji Choden to inform the BEC board of the decision and also ask the BEC to bring the matter to a close with all the parties concerned, which would include the two developers Infinity and ILFS.
A senior government figure close to the developments said, “If the project land itself has been declared illegal, there is no way the government can go ahead with a project that is all about land.”
The official said that the Cabinet had received a letter on January 9, 2014 from the NLC stating various legal violations of the Land Act 2007 and other laws due to which land cannot be leased or allotted to BEC for the Education City.
The Cabinet had then asked the BEC chairperson Lyonpo Dorji Choden to discuss the issue with NLC again, after which she tried, but the NLC through a letter sent to her on February 14 reiterated its earlier legal stand on the land and on why it was illegal.
The BEC put up the matter for a decision to the Cabinet on February 17, following which the Cabinet decided it best not to violate any land laws.
The Cabinet expressed concern over the resources already invested in constructing a bridge and approach road from government resources. The government has spent Nu 130 mn so far. It was decided that the government would decide what to do only after the BEC resolved all issues and closed the project.
A senior official said that the government would ensure that infrastructure already built would not go to waste. The official also said that the Cabinet had not yet issued a press release because they wanted the BEC chairperson Lyonpo Dorji Choden to personally inform the board first.
The BEC board is then expected to make the decision public. The board consists of the secretaries of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Education, Home Ministry,
Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, GNHC, Thimphu Dzongda, DHI Infra CEO, Vice Chancellor of Royal University of Bhutan, Mewang Gup, and the Dogar Gup.
BEC CEO Dr Karma said that he had not received any formal directives from the Cabinet on the issue, but he said he was expecting a directive soon.
The January 9, 2014 NLC letter that was again reiterated on February 14, 2014 and which is the basis of the Cabinet’s decisions, raised several legal points against the allotment of 1,000 acres of land to the BEC.
The letter points out several violations like the 90-year lease when only 30-year is allowed by the Land Act, sub-leasing of land by developers, huge commercial plans like developing 699 villas, and maintenance of green land. It also says that any preliminary clearance given to the Ministry of Education is no longer valid as the BEC now wanted the land to be registered with them. It also states that the preliminary clearance given the MoE should not be mistaken as an approval, as preliminary clearance also meant submitting detailed plans.