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Hefty fines for encroaching on Govt land

Encroaching on government land is almost a national past time in Bhutan with around 7,000 such known cases of clear encroachment prior to 2019.

Private fences or boundaries seem to mysteriously move on their own into government areas, and after a few years the encroacher will be found proclaiming how it has been a part of his or her family land since eons attempting to get it registered in their thrams.

However, those days of happy encroaching are over now as the National Land Commission (NLC) has come up with the ‘Prevention of State Land Encroachment Rules and Regulations, 2022,’ that not only says it is illegal as per the Land Act 2007, but goes a step further to lay out hefty penalties for doing so.

The Land Act has a lone provision of section 128 which says, ‘Encroachment on any state owned land private registered land shall be prohibited,’ but it does not say anything beyond that.

The new rule under section 40 now says, “Any person breaching Section 128 of the Act shall be levied a fine as per PAVA rate for per decimal encroached in rural area and per square feet in urban area.”

This means that if you encroach on 10 decimals of government land in rural Paro you could end up paying anywhere between Nu 9,130 to Nu 3,852 per decimal or Nu 91,300 to Nu 38,520 for the 10 decimals depending on the distance of the land from the municipal boundary.

Encroachment in urban areas will be a much more expensive affair. If you happen to encroach two decimals in Thimphu under the Urban Village-1 precinct, then your fine would be Nu 210,574 per decimal or Nu 421,148 for the two decimals of encroachment.

These Rules shall be applicable to any State land encroachment post the National Cadastral Resurvey Programme.

A NLC official said, “People think a lot before even cutting a single tree due to the fines imposed but they are fine encroaching on state land with no consequences and so the rules will address this.”

While the rules and penalties are tough they are not unreasonable as a fine will not be imposed directly once encroachment is discovered, but some time will be given after a notice is issued.

If one does not remove the encroachment within the time period given, then the fine will be imposed.

The Commission Secretariat shall take into consideration the aggravating and mitigating circumstances while levying fines for the offences committed under the Act. 

Section 22 says, “When there is a reasonable ground to believe that the State land has been encroached or is about to be encroached, the encroacher shall be served a notice to stop the encroachment activity. The notice must mention a deadline stating the encroacher to take any necessary remedial measures within the prescribed time frame.”

Section 23 says, “Failure to adhere to the notice shall be dealt as per the provisions under these Rules and Regulations, and other relevant law in force.”

If a person is a repeat offender, a person shall be fined double the amount at second instance.

At the third instance, the encroacher shall be levied fine as well as prosecuted before the court of law as per the provisions of the relevant Acts.

The rule says any person unlawfully occupying any state land must vacate and remove any crop or structure reared on such land upon receipt of a written notice. Not adhering to such notice shall be liable to forfeiture. 

Where a group of persons, without any entitlement and with the common object of occupying any state land or have occupied any such land, and if such group of persons has not vacated the State land on demand by any authorised government agencies, the competent authority shall, order without any notice, the immediate eviction of the encroacher from the land taking police assistance as may be necessary. 

In the event, the encroacher fails or refuses to pay the fines, the relevant authority shall file a suit for recovery of sums due to it before the Royal Courts of Justice. 

Any structure on encroached land shall be demolished by concerned implementing agency without any compensation. 

A NLC official said the local government is responsible for monitoring and preventing encroachments, but he said until now they are reluctant to take action as they are elected officials and do not want to lose votes.

The official said that henceforth under the rules and even the Local Government Act it is their duty to tackle such issues and if they do not so wilfully then they can be legally prosecuted.

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