Land officials say this is unconstitutional while MoAF officials say the cabinet introduced the highly controversial changes
The Land Bill of Bhutan 2012 even before being introduced in the Parliament has already created much controversy. National Land Commission officers accused the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and the Cabinet of virtually hijacking and rewriting the entire Bill to give ministers power over land administration and distribution.
Some Ministry of Agriculture and Forest officials who drafted the bill passed the buck to the cabinet who they say introduced some of the most sensitive changes in the Bill.
Despite requests by this paper for them to come on record officials from both agencies spoke on the condition of anonymity fearing repercussions.
One of the major changes is that the cabinet under Section 230 of the new Land Bill 2012 will have the power to grant resettlement land. This is a major change as under Section 71 of the current Land Act 2007 it is only the Druk Gyalpo who can grant resettlement or rehabilitation land. This section says ‘Granting of Kidu and rehabilitation land shall be the royal prerogative of the Druk Gyalpo.’
“We are shocked with this addition because original draft did not have it and moreover this is unconstitutional as only His Majesty the King can grant Kidu land under the constitution. It is understood that resettlement land is Kidu land,” said a land commission officer.
Article 2, Section 16 of the Constitution allows only His Majesty the King to grant land Kidu. The Section says ‘The Druk Gyalpo in the exercise of his Royal Prerogatives, may grant citizenship, land Kidu and other Kidus.’
MoAF officials, however, say that they are not to blame. “This change was not inserted by MoAF but rather by the cabinet when the bill went to them,” clarified a MoAF official.
Under the Executive section in the Constitution there is no clause granting the cabinet any powers to allot land Kidu or rehabilitation land.
Another major change that NLC officials are unhappy about is the change in the membership of the National Land Commission.
Under the current Land Act 2007 the NLC members are the Gyalpoi Zimpon, Secretaries of the Agriculture Ministry, Finance Ministry, Works and Human Settlement Ministry, Economic Affairs Ministry, Home Ministry, one representative each of international boundary secretariat, Thromde, private sector, National Environment Commission and the Land Secretary.
“The National Land Commission had recommended that we have four member permanent commission with no politicians but this has not been accepted by MoAF,” said a NLC official.
The National Land Commission members as per the new bill is the Prime Minister or Minister of relevant ministry appointed by the Prime Minister who shall be the Chairperson, Ministers or highest ranking officers appointed by the Prime Minister of the Ministries of Agriculture, Home and Culture, Works and Human Settlement and the Economic Affairs, one Thrizin nominated by the Home Ministry, one Thrompon nominated by the Works and Human Settlement Ministry and the Secretary of the National Land Commission.
Here too a MoAF official said, “The change in the membership of the NLC was brought about by the cabinet when the bill went to them.”
“Earlier the chairperson of the commission was the Gyalpoi Zimpon with secretaries as members but now with politicians in an autonomous body land will issues become politicized,” said a NLC official. “With politicization of the commission the law cannot be applied properly and so people might not get land for resettlement,” he added.
“We expect this clause to be strongly debated in the Parliamentary session by National Council Members as they see some danger in it,” said another land official.
Land Commission officials complained that though they made some major contribution in drafting the bill they were not given a copy of the bill.
“Since most of the land related issues and disputes are solved by us and we have more experience the drafting of the Bill should have been given to us instead of outsourcing it to the MoAF,” said a land official.
Under the current act a person can convert 50 decimals of Chuzing land if he or she does not have land to construct a house. In the new Land Bill this has been reduced to 13 decimals.
Prohibited land transactions
As per the Land Act of 2007, the minimum parcel of land that shall be registered in a thram is 10 decimal but under the new bill it increases to 13 decimals.
Land recorded in the thram as Kidu or resettlement shall not be sold within 10 years of its allotment. However in this bill after 10 years of allotment from the date of registration, 60% of such land shall be allowed for transaction.
Merging of Continuous parcel
Section 13 of Chapter VI of the new Bill also says that a plot with minimum of 13 decimal is mandatory both in rural and urban. They can now be merged with adjacent land.
If merger is not possible for undersized plots then the commission shall consider allotment of land parcel from the Government Reserve Land at the Property Assessment and Valuation Agency rate to the land owner to make up the minimum required plot size.
NLC officials said this is also a case of the government taking over the Kidu powers of His Majesty the King.
Two New Departments under NLC
If the land bill gets enacted NLC will be having two new departments, Department of Survey and Mapping and Department of Land Registration.
“In the previous years we gave more importance on thram than survey and mapping,” said a NLC official.
With these two new departments officials say they can help in solving land disputes and overcome land discrepancy as it will give equal importance on survey mapping and land registration.
The Land Registration Department would be the custodian of compiling and maintaining of the Chhazhag Sathram( the document that shall record and establish the legitimacy of title of a land of a person in the country) and also be responsible for constantly updating the records and register all the land transactions.
The department of survey and mapping shall be responsible for surveying and mapping of land in the country.
Functions of the Dispute Settlement Committee
As per the Land Act of 2007, land disputes shall be settled amicably by NLC before taking it into court for legal recourse. But the Commission does not have proper procedure although it is mentioned in the rules and regulations.
Therefore to give justice and a clear procedure for the commission the dispute Settlement Committee and its members are mentioned this year.
The bill states that this committee shall act as a Land Dispute Tribunal until such tribunal is established by Druk Gyalpo in accordance with the constitution.
“It will not consume much time in settling disputes as the appellant can go to the High Court if he or she not satisfied,” said the Legal officer.
Functions of the Local Government
Local government shall now be responsible to verify and validate the land registration and transaction, allotment, lease, acquisition and exchange cases for further submission to the commission.
The NLC officer said the purpose is to divide the responsibility between the commission and the local government in making it more efficient.