After this paper came out with the Denchi land story titled ‘Denchi land scam controversy,’ the government defended the issue at the National Graduates Orientation Program (NGOP), DPT party meet and through a letter/press release printed uniformly and obediently by virtually every newspaper.
While the letters in the papers largely stuck to the issue, the unparliamentarily language and defamatory accusations thrown in the NGOP and DPT sessions are not what we expect of some of our respected and senior leaders.
Going by the hysteria some of our readers may construe that this paper is at ‘war’ with the government but this is not so. This is because in a ‘war’ there is a big danger of the press losing its ‘objectivity,’ a quality which is prized above all by any journalist.
The same cannot be said of the MoIC circular asking agencies to withhold advertisement to ‘The Bhutanese.’
The Bhutanese as always has come up with an objective second article on Denchi based on facts, documents, and laws to show that the cabinet erred in the case of Denchi with an element of conflict of interest.
The same principles of critical and investigative journalism applied in our earlier critical stories like Phobjika land case, Bjemina quarry operations, Chang Ugyen, High Level Committee report etc have also been applied in the case of Denchi.
This paper will continue to do its job in the most professional manner and will continue to bring out those issues that are factual and also concern the larger interests of the nation and its citizens. We respect and recognize our democratically elected leaders and the very important posts they represent but we are also duty bound to hold them accountable in the public and democratic interest.
Irregular and in-transparent land compensation rates not based on proper rules and procedures is a matter of concern for any ordinary Bhutanese, given that we don’t have much land and land acquisitions for various projects are happening across the country.
The Prime Minister’s main defense that Denchi was a declared a Dzongkhag Thromde by the Parliament was never disputed in this papers first article as the article clearly says that land was being acquired to establish the Denchi town.
Even if the government’s argument is accepted that Denchi Thromde had high rates which had to be paid as it was about to become a commercial area, why was the same principal not applied in the case of Duksum an upcoming urban township in Trashiyangtse.
Land is being acquired in Duksum at the rural rate of 2,900 even though using Denchi’s logic, under PAVA Duksum should get Nu 9,343 per decimal since it is listed as an urban area under PAVA. Landowners in Duksum like in Denchi had wanted higher rates but were told that the government rate is fixed and cannot be changed. This is clear example of conflict of interest and reflects the ground reality that no influential people except for ordinary farmers own land in Duksum.
Official documents and evidences with this paper show that the PAVA committee very clearly warned the government that the rates as per the Land Act could only be revised once every three years even after the cabinet asked PAVA to relook at the rates on 26th November 2010.
Also, PAVA committee members in their recent interviews with this paper on the condition of anonymity fearing government action said that the committee was aware and also told that Denchi was declared a Dzongkhag Thromde on July 2010, before they met on 27th November, 2010 on the cabinet’s instructions. The fact that the PAVA committee still did not accept that Denchi had to be compensated as Denchi Thromde is also proof of the fact that the cabinet came up with an illegal and ad-hoc decision.
Documents also show that PAVA committee while comparing land compensation rates for Nanglam and Denchi say the two are different as in the former case Nanglam had land pooling and some urban basis but Denchi was a rural area where residents had not even agreed to land pooling.
It is very clear now that PAVA the legitimate government authority’s decision was overturned by the cabinet in an ad-hoc and in transparent manner.
According to legal experts rural land was being acquired for Denchi Thromde and not from Denchi Thromde. The legal experts say commercial rates can only be applied to an area once money has been spent and it is commercially developed as per PAVA rules and Land Act.
While the Parliament rightfully declared Denchi as a Thromde there was no resolution stating that the Land Act 2007 and PAVA rules on compensation can be overruled. The Parliament’s resolution simply was to establish Denchi town not establish the rates at which land is to be bought to establish the town.
Land compensation under Land Act 2007 and PAVA’s rules state very clearly that government compensation has to follow a fixed formula that takes into account the land usage, location, road connectivity etc all decided by PAVA.
As the Prime Minister himself said it is ultimately up to the readers to analyze and judge.