The Bhutanese has found that the cabinet violated government laws to provide abnormally high compensation rates to landowners in Pemagatshel with the biggest beneficiary being a close relative of the Prime Minister.
The land in question is 116 acres of rural Kamzhing land owned by 26 thram holders and the government which, is being acquired by the government for the new Denchi town. The Prime Minister’s relative Aum Dechen is the largest landowner owning around 24 acres in this area.
Aum Dechen is the aunt (Ani) of the Prime Minister and they have their census together ever since Lyonchhen shifted his census to Pemagatshel in 2008 prior to the elections. The Prime Minister represents the Nanong-Shumar constituency in this same region.
The semi-autonomous Property Assessment and Valuation Agency (PAVA) applying the governments revised Land Compensation rules and rates of 2009 set the compensation rates at Nu 3,952.42 per decimal.
However, the cabinet violating the Land Compensation rules and the Land Act increased this to Nu 9,000.
This meant that landowners in the area were getting Nu 5,047.58 more than what the government rules allowed.
“This is in violation of the Land Compensation Rules of the government and also the Land Act as the PAVA rates can only be revised after every three years. It is also the job of the PAVA committee to come up with the rates based on rules,” said a Land Commission official on the condition of anonymity.
This meant that in the case of the Prime Minister’s relative the actual compensation as per the Land Compensation rules and PAVA should have been Nu 9.48mn. However, after the cabinet’s hike this increased to Nu 21.60mn. This meant that Nu 12.12 was paid above the official government compensation rate to Aum Dechen.
Another major beneficiary was the former Pemagatshel Dzongda Dasho Yonten who owned 10 acres. As per the official rates he should have been given Nu 3.95mn but after the increase received Nu 9mn.
Also the total financial burden increased from around Nu 40mn under the old rate to around Nu 90mn as per the cabinet’s orders.
It all began with the PAVA in 2010 applying its official rates as per the government rules for the affected land owners due to the land acquired for the town plan.
PAVA was created with the specific purpose of giving fair and uniform compensation to Bhutanese citizens especially in light of various projects like hydro projects that would require land acquisition.
Earlier before PAVA came in, compensation was Nu 200 per decimal for rural Kamzhing land. However, it was all drastically increased when Land Compensation Rules and PAVA came into being in 2009 along with a set compensation criteria which clearly defined the exact amount of compensation for rural and urban areas.
Earlier the Dzongkhag under its interpretation of PAVA rules had placed the area in question Class A land with a compensation of Nu 5,646 per decimal. When this was evaluated by PAVA the Class A category was rejected by PAVA.
The PAVA following a due process listed Denchi town plan under Class B as the land was four kilometers away from the present Pemagatshel town. As per the Land Compensation Rates of 2009, the land is classified under B rate when it is more than 2 km and less than or equal to 6 km from the municipal boundary.
As per PAVA rules, the land compensation rate for Pemagatshel was Nu 3,952.42.
“The affected people approached the Dzongkhag Administration as it involves land and it is something inherited by people,” said the Shumar Gup, Lepo.
The petition filed by the land owners for more compensation reached the Department of Urban Development and Engineering Services (DUDES) under Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, from where it was forwarded to the Cabinet. The cabinet then violating government Land Compensation Rules approved Nu 9,000 per decimal as the compensation rate.
The Shumar Gup said that the decision to form a town at Denchi is not a recent one. He said public consultations were carried out during the Prime Minister’s tenure as the then home minister and when Lyonpo Kinzang was the Works and Human Settlement Minister. “The new rate was given by the Cabinet as Kidu to the affected land owners,” said the Gup.
However, land officials say that in doing so the government has violated the Land Act 2007 as well.
Section 151 of the Land Act 2007 states that ‘there shall be a Property Assessment and Valuation Agency established under the Ministry of Finance to evaluate and fix the value of land and any other collateral property that may be acquired.’
The finance ministry had established PAVA with the Department of National Properties in 2008.
A 17th April 2009 notification of the Ministry of Finance says, “The Royal government hereby announces the revised compensation rates for land and structures on land, both in urban and rural areas, when acquired by the government.”
It also says, “These rules and rates shall supersede all the earlier relevant rules and rates. These shall come into effect from 1st of May 2009, and prevail for a duration of three years.”
Under the implementation procedures and guidelines section of the rules it says that for valuation, ‘the compensation rate for the land shall be worked out by the committee (PAVA) based on the rates.’