The High Level Committee report of 2003 brought to the forefront 45 cases involving influential people and hundreds of acres of grabbed land in Thimphu.
However, an investigation by The Bhutanese has shown that no serious action has been taken against the land officials, Dzongdas and Drangpons involved.
This paper has also found that though thrams have been deleted in most cases the National Land Commission (NLC), Thimphu Dzongkhag and the Thimphu District Municipality (TDM)) are yet to physically take over the excess lands on the actual sites.
No action against officials involved
One of the main culprits in the 2003 reports are also Drangpons or Judges who gave themselves excess land illegally and also approved illegitimate transactions.
In one case, 170.64 acres of community Tsamdro had been illegally transferred to mainly 29 Judges and court officials, and two relatives of Dzongda Karma Dorji.
The Judges involved were Judge Adab Chado now in the Thimphu Dzongkhag court, Judge Ugyen Tenzin, on deputation, Judge Passang Dorji, retired from High Court, Judge Kuenzang Tobgye, retired from High Court and Judge Tshering Dorji, also retired.
In addition to these judges involved then, there were also around 15 court officials like bench clerks who had Tsamdro land registered in their names.
However, though these judicial figures had violated the land act 1979 and Royal Kashos they were not held accountable.
Dzongkhag land record head Sonam Norbu is named four times in the report asking for action and also a charge sheet; he only saw compulsory retirement along with his benefits intact. Sonam Norbu had been refused land Kidu for a plot in Lanjophakha as he had adequate land. In spite of that he went to the extent of grabbing the same land and registering it in his name.
Sonam Norbu had conveniently given 10 decimals from the 40-decimal plot to the then Thimphu Dzongda Karma Dorji’s wife. Thimphu Dzongda Karma Dorji’s name is reflected three times for action to be taken but he also saw only compulsory retirement with his benefits intact.
Former Land Records Lhakpa Duba has been named 14 times in the report as the officer liable for the lapses. Though he was retired by the time the report came out there was no action taken against him.
Land record assistant officer Gyaltsen is also mentioned in the report as being liable but he too was not held accountable.
Former Thimphu Dzongda Dorji Namgyel is also mentioned in the report but no action was taken.
Former Surveyor General Cithar Namgyel and then assistant land director and now surveyor general Ugyen Takchu were also named in individual cases and were to be held accountable.
Cithar Namgyel became a judge while Ugyen Takchu was promoted the post of the land director and then the surveyor general.
Lands yet to be recovered at site
After the High Level Committee report was completed one of the key recommendations of the report was to delete the excess lands from the Thrams and physically go at the site to remove fencing or other constructions.
For this, responsibility was entrusted to the NLC which in turn delegated the responsibility for the urban areas to the then Thimphu City Corporation (TCC) and for the rural and extended municipal areas the Dzongkhag was given the main lead.
All three agencies deleted most of the thrams but, since the landowners in question involved influential people the three agencies conducted a half-hearted implementation on the ground.
The result was that thram deletion took longer than usual with some cases still pending and in almost all cases, land has not yet been physically taken over at the site with the excess land still being used as their own.
The NLC officer, Kezang Tenzin posted in the then TCC and now TDM in 2002-03 mainly to help TDM implement the High Level Committee report concerning around 25 cases went to the extent of filing a false and inaccurate completion report stating that all thrams had been deleted and lands had been taken over.
It was based on his false completion report that a 2007 status report on the implementation of the high level land investigation reported several “solved” and “action taken” cases.
After Kezang Tenzin left, TDM officials were shocked to find that some thrams had still not been deleted and none of the plots had been taken over physically to be part of government land.
It was only in 2010 that TDM officials were able to delete the remaining thrams. However, both TDM and the NLC were not able to agree on taking over the sites.
TDM in its defense says that its proposal to the NLC to form a joint team to physically verify and take over the sites was not accepted. TDM officials say that since the entire mess was discovered in the NLC they should also help TDM.
In fact on September 2010, the TDM had again requested the NLC on forming a joint verification team but no action was taken.
TDM officials claim that now the only option is that during the drawing up of the ongoing 12 Local Area Plans (LAPs) in Thimphu the excess land is automatically deducted.
The Thimphu Dzongkhag which received mainly extended urban and rural cases is also faced with a similar situation.
In a recent meeting with the NLC, the Dzongkhag administration had asked the commission to come up with clear cut areas that need to be demarcated as Zhungsa (government land) as per the High Level Committee report.
The land record officer in Thimphu Dzongkhag, Tashi Tobgay said that of the 10 cases with them most of the owners have applied for Kidu. So far they have not demarcated any land as Zhungsa because it is not clear as to how much land can be retained by people. Of the applicants, Dasho Ugen Dorji’s land has been regularized after a Kasho was granted to him in 2006 on his earlier excess 8.59 acres of apple orchard in Semtokha.
The Dzongkhag land section said that now the only solution could be the National Cadastral Resurvey.
A TDM official said that if excess land is not taken over from the site then there were chances that this land would be sold to unsuspecting buyers and be misused for economic activities like construction or orchards.
Many landowners had also taken the option of replacing the land from other Dzongkhags which was an alternative at the time.
Some have taken the legal route like prominent business man, Umtey Penjor who has recently filed a case in the district court against the committee’s decision to delete his 20 acres of apple orchard. He claimed that his land was registered in 1967 and in 1969 he was issued a letter by the forest office asking him to replace the cleared area by apple trees. He claimed that the reason stated by the High Level Committee for deleting 20 acres was that the land was granted to him by the Finance Minister in 1974. How can the Minister allot him land in 1974 when it was already registered in 1967, asked Umtey Penjor.