After The Bhutanese ran the story titled, ‘Denchi Land Compensation Scam,’ the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release to all media houses except this paper clarifying its stand.
The Denchi land compensation scam saw cabinet ministers giving abnormally high compensation rates well above government rates of Property Assessment and Valuation Agency for land in Denchi that was being acquired for a Dzongkhag thromde. The main beneficiary was the Prime Minister’s Aunt who had the highest land holding there. PAVA had fixed the rate at Nu 3,900 per decimal but the cabinet made it Nu 9,000 per decimal.
The Bhutanese could only recently access the official press release now uploaded on the website of the Cabinet Secretariat. The release was printed and telecast as the government’s version on several media outlets last week including very recently the Bhutan Broadcasting Service
The media outlets which published and telecast the cabinet’s version did not cross check the cabinet’s press release with this paper which first published the Denchi land compensation scam story.
This paper as a result has found that several clarifications provided in the press release are not in keeping with the facts thereby misinforming readers and viewers alike.
Uncovering the Dzongkhag Thromde excuse
The main defense of the press release was that the Parliament on 2nd July 2010 had declared Denchi as a Dzongkhag Thromde and hence the Thromde rate of Nu 9,000 per decimal was paid to Denchi residents. The argument was that under PAVA the thromde rate was Nu 18,995 per decimal for commercial areas and Nu 9,845 per decimal for residential rates.
The Press release also justified the cabinet overturning PAVA’s 27th November 2010 review of the Denchi case on similar grounds.
Contradicting this a prominent legal expert said, “While the Parliament in the fifth session declared Denchi as a Dzongkhag Thromde the parliament has not declared what rates are to be paid. That has to be left to the Land Act 2007 and the PAVA which are the appropriate authority to decide the rates.”
With some landowners demanding more and the Parliament declaring Denchi a thromde the cabinet asked PAVA to review the rates in 26th November 2010.
PAVA which was aware of the Parliament’s decision still refused to pay Thromde B rates for Denchi. The PAVA team in its report instead informed the cabinet that any raise above the Nu 3,952.42 per decimal for Denchi would not be in keeping with the Land Act 2007.
The only sentence marked in bold in the report says, “It may be appraised that as per Section 154 of the Land Act of Bhutan 2007 the PAVA shall revise compensation only after every three years.” This is also the only sentence of report marked in bold.
PAVA task force members justifying their stand in the report told this paper that PAVA could not accept paying Class B thromde rates for Denchi as it was only a thromde in name but not in infrastructure and value. They said that PAVA has to pay for actual ground value using a complex formula.
The legal expert backing PAVA’s justification said, “Land was being acquired for establishing a Dzongkhag Thromde and from a Thromde.”
A senior Land Commission official said that rates cannot be paid for land which does not have the value yet. He also said that the Land Act 2007 which is an actual law enacted by Parliament has been violated in the case of Denchi.
An Urban Town planner said that it is only after a town has got the entire infrastructure and is developed and settled should PAVA rates for thromde apply.
Also the PAVA rate is actually for the existing Pemagatshel town which has some infrastructure, market value, road connectivity and investment and would qualify under PAVA for such rates and not Denchi.
Denchi residents apart from getting the urban rates are also getting compensation for their orange and mango trees which actually comes under the rural land compensation system.
While cabinet ministers insisted that Denchi be paid under the urban thromde rates different rules were applied in the case of Duksum an Urban Township in Trashiyangtse.
55.735 acres of land are being acquired to relocate and develop the current Duksum Urban Township which is just 0.5 km away.
If one goes by the cabinet’s decision and logic in the case of Denchi, the 67 private landowners of Khitsang whose land was acquired in mid 2011 for the urban town are entitled to Nu 9,801 per decimal for commercial areas and Nu 9,770.51 in residential areas as per the PAVA’s own urban rates. This is because Duksum is listed as a throm under PAVA. Duksum is also considered commercially viable due to a 600 MW Kholongchu project coming up.
However, the government unlike in the case of Denchi decided to go strictly by the PAVA’s original estimate for Rural Class ‘C’ land and pay 2,900 per decimal for Kamzhing land and 3,300 per decimal for Chuzing land being acquired for the Duksum Township.
The 67 private land owners of Khitsang many of whom are ordinary farmers and thought the price was too low were told by the Gewog and Dzongkhag administration that the government’s PAVA rates are fixed and final.
Comparing Nanglam and Denchi
The press release also says that one of the main justifications for review of the price was when landowners in Denchi compared their rates to the PAVA approved land prices of Nganglam which was Nu. 9801 per decimal for commercial area and Nu 9770.51 for residential area.
However, PAVA rejected this saying that Nanglam and Denchi cannot be compared due to the urban infrastructure.
The PAVA report of 27th November 2010 says, “For the issue Nanglam does not arise as the planning has been based on land pooling method which the public of Denchi did not agree.”
A PAVA member explaining this section of the report said “Though both were declared towns in Nanglam the urban rate could be paid as there was land pooling and some urban development which was not the case in Denchi.”
The member said that all evidential fact on the ground showed that Denchi was still a rural area.
This is also more evidence that Denchi should have been paid rural rates.
The Land acquisition excuse
One of the excuses in the press release to justify paying higher rates is that local landowners wanting higher land prices would not sell their land. The release says, “Acquisition of land, however, became a very serious bottleneck in the progress of the township development since the price demanded by some of the thram holders was very high.”
However, section 142 of the Land Act 2007 says, ‘the Government may acquire a registered land for public interests.’ Though the government portrayed themselves to be at the mercy of the landowners in Denchi and seemed to be unable to directly acquire the land they had no qualms in acquiring private land from unwilling landowners for numerous other projects like Duksum town, Gelephu airport, Supreme Court construction, Green Zone etc.