Most of the above including ordinary citizens are against clauses in the Land Bill 2012 that give politicians vast powers over land and the National Land Commission
The Draft Land Bill 2012 is heading into some major constitutional, political and public opinion crisis with many MPs, Local government representatives, political parties, civil servants, legal experts and ordinary citizens criticizing two controversial changes in the Bill.
One change is that the cabinet under the new Land Bill 2012 will have the power to grant resettlement land. Another change is that membership of the National Land Commission (NLC) has been changed with the earlier composition of mainly government secretaries and the Gyalpoi Zimpon being removed and instead replaced with ministers.
Most people that The Bhutanese talked-to said that cabinet getting land resettlement powers is unconstitutional as it intrudes on His Majesty the King’s Constitutional prerogative to give Land Kidu. Article 2, Section 16 of the Constitution allows only His Majesty the King to grant land Kidu.
They also said that having ministers in the NLC would lead to a politicized NLC vulnerable to political pressures.
Explaining the governments stand the Acting Prime Minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, said, “I think the matter is not understood very well. The Bill is subject to discussion. We need to look into such issues. The word resettlement is for the rehabilitation of people who are displaced when a certain project falls in their area. This is what we are doing even now under the Land Act. We have to discuss this thoroughly and it is not necessary to pass the Bill this session owing to its importance.”
On the proposal of switching the National Land Commission members, the acting Prime Minister said that these were just suggestions which need to be discussed.
However, the government’s interpretation of the Bill and the defense of the controversial clauses have not convinced many who want the provisions removed.
National Council says it will not support controversial provisions in Land Bill
The National Council (NC) will play an important part in passing or amending the Land Bill. Most NC members, however, were unhappy with the two controversial provisions.
None of the 17 NC members that The Bhutanese talked-to supported the controversial clauses and most said that they would oppose them.
Lhuentse NC MP Rinzin Rinzin said, “This directly contradicts the provision of the Constitution which states that the prerogative to give away land lies only with His Majesty the King. Cabinet can propose to the Druk Gyalpo but cannot give it away. It appears like the Government is trying to get more power by bypassing the prerogative of the Druk Gyalpo. This is unconstitutional.
He said Land is closest to people’s heart as it is the main resource. “From what I have heard, the Gyalpoi Zimpon is not included as one of the Commission members. He has to be one of the members as he has to know what is going on in the Commission,” said Rinzin Rinzin.
Zhemgang NC MP Pema Lhamo said “As far as the land is concerned, we should maintain the sanctity that lies with His Majesty the King. That would be the best and it has to be like that.” She said that it is too early to propose any amendment on the Land Act 2007 as the problem is with inadequate implementation of Land Act 2007 and not with any faulty clauses.
Tsirang NC MP Justin Gurung said that the Bill would not garner any support.
Samtse NC MP Dr. Mani Kumar Rai said as far as he was concerned he did not know why such a clause had been proposed. “I don’t even know whether this will get through or not,” he said.
Trongsa NC MP Dr. Jagar Dorji said till now it was only His Majesty who issued Kidu lands and that is how it has always been done.“I think it is in the best interest of the people, rich or poor alike that giving away land through one hand will always be better,” said Dr. Jagar.
Samdrup Jongkhar NC MP Jigmi Wangchuk said like the others he too will not be in favor of the proposed clause.
The NC chairperson, Namgay Penjore, however, said, “It is just a bill and it can be subject to change. And NC is going to discuss this bill in the tenth session”.
Gasa NC MP Sangay Khandu said the constitution clearly states Kidu as a sole prerogative of His Majesty and it should not be undermined or changed at any cost. “We should make Land Commission more efficient and should not create a room for politicizing,” he said.
HM’s eminent nominee Karma Damcho Nidup asked “what is the problem in keeping the old Land Bill? By allowing it to change does it address the problem?” She said there will be problem in the implementation of the bill.
Chukha NC MP Tshewang Lhamo said land is the sanction of HM the King and it should be with the throne since land and census are two important issues.
Bumthang NC MP Tshewang Jurmi said “Granting of Kidu land shall be the Royal Prerogative of the Druk Gyalpo which is further emphasized by the constitution which states that the Kidu land shall be submitted to His Majesty the King.
Political parties not in support of political interference in Land issues
Dr. Tandin Dorji the spokesperson for the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa(DNT) said “granting of land is the sole prerogative of HM the King and this shouldn’t be changed at any cost”. He said giving powers to the cabinet will create an environment for corruption.
“The inclusion of Gyalpo Zimpon is of utmost importance as he is the representative of His Majesty,” the DNT spokesperson said.
“Involving politicians in the membership will politicize the whole system and there will be misuse of power.”
He suggested it would be wise if there could be the representatives from the secretary level as well some people who are highly qualified to be members in the committee.
“MPs should voice out what the people really feel about this as there is not a single forum in which people have supported this act,” he said.
“That is why we say DPT does not seem to listen to people’s need; they decide everything on their own.”
A core member of the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) said “No one other than HM the King can grant Kidu for only good reasons. It is in the interest of His people and so power should be retained only with the King”.
He said granting land fairly cannot be expected from the cabinet as they will not have a great insight like HM. The inclusion of Gyalpoi Zimpon is also important as he is the king’s envoy and he should actually be the chairperson for the committee.
The Opposition leader (OL)Tshering Tobgay said “I see absolutely no reason why the cabinet should get involved in resettlement land”.
He said on 21st December 2006, during the 86th session of the National Assembly, HM the King commanded that no other persons would be permitted to come in between His Majesty and His people when it comes to resolving land issues.
“Since then, HM the King has travelled throughout the country and worked tirelessly to personally oversee each and every resettlement land case. That is why the resettlement land program has enjoyed total success, and that is why the cabinet should not be allowed to interfere,” he said.
The Opposition leader said he was deeply concerned that the amendment to allow the cabinet to approve land resettlement may be motivated by political interests.
“We cannot allow any politicians to be members of the Land Commission. Land is a precious resource, and, as such, politicians, including the PM and ministers, would come under a lot of political pressures to distribute land unfairly, and they would eventually succumb to such political influence. I cannot see why the prime minister and other ministers would want to be members of the Land Commission if not to satisfy narrow political interests,” said the OL.
The Bhutan Kuen-Ngyam Party spokesperson said, “The land act or any land bill should always stand testimony to the continued commitment and diligence of the King in his pursuit of overall well being of Bhutanese people.”
There was a mixed response from the DPT MPs. Lhuentse MP Tshering Tenzin said “There is no harm in PM becoming the chairman of the NLC. It is as good as anybody coming in and taking the position”.
Conversely MP Karma Rangdol said he was not supportive of the resettlement. “I need to understand this clause because it would be very difficult to support a clause which gives power to the cabinet to issue resettlement land,” said Karma Rangdol. He said during the deliberation on the Bill, the house will know the rationale behind it.
Dremitse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said “There might have been a reason as to why it was proposed in the first place, but it is yet to be discussed”.
Bongo-Chapcha MP, Ugay Tshering said when it came to land and census issues, it was the prerogative of His Majesty. He said no one will be stupid enough to put their finger on it.
Local Government leaders say leave it to the King
Nearly all the 11 Gups from the across the country that this paper talked-to were against the cabinet getting resettlement powers . They said among other things politicization of land issues would become a major problem.
A supporter, Gup Sonam Dhendup, from Yurung Gewog in the PM’s constituency said “There is no problem if the new Land Act gives Kidu powers to the cabinet”.
Phongmey Gup, Palden Dorji under Trashigang said “The people will prefer for the King to have the land resettlement power and the cabinet to only support the King”. He said change in NLC membership can create problems in the future as politicians change and so the King should have powers over the NLC as well.
Gup Chandra Prasad, of Dopuchen Gewog under Samtse said “There will be a problem of politicization in the future and so Kidu should be kept as per the Constitution”.
Gup Sangay Tenzin of Drapong Gewog under Mongar said “In the future there can be problems so the power should be only kept with the King”.
Gup Sangay Tshewang of Doteng Gewog under Paro said that the cabinet is not worthy to have such a power. He said ministers in the NLC will lead to rich getting richer and poor getting poorer.
Talo Gup Kinley said both for resettlement powers and NLC membership people trust the King much more so both issues should be left to the King.
Private Sector and Civil Servants also unhappy about new clauses
The Bhutanese also sought the opinion of civil servants, private sector employees and legal experts on the issue.
A government lawyer on the condition of anonymity said “I feel that it is a Usur Pation (hijacking or taking over) of the Royal prerogative by the executive. Resettlement is given as Kidu as it falls within the concept of Kidu. The provision is void ab initio (it can never come into existence) as it violates the Constitution”.
A female civil servant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “When the power is given to a politician, it is doubtful as they have their vested interests and promises to keep. Giving away land is an ultimate power and the sanctity must remain the way it is. Should such power be given to the cabinet, the rich would start getting richer”.
Hotel Dragon Roots Proprietor, Sangay Dorji said “It is simple, let the power remain with HM. It is funny because it was HM who gave them the power through democracy and now they want it the other way around. It is like giving an inch and taking a yard. If such a clause has to go through, then it won’t be good because in the end it will be these politicians favoring their constituencies and voters.”
He said it doesn’t make sense. For example, the Gyelpozhing land grab, even with several reminders from HM had happened. anyway.
Pema Rinzin, a shopkeeper in Thimphu said “The government has already messed up our business. And now it seems they want to mess up land issues too. Land is best left to His Majesty”.
Tashi Norbu a private entrepreneur said Trowa theater case, Gyelpozhing land scam, Chang Ugyen case and others are examples of how politicians manage land.
“Only His Majesty should have a say on land allotment and in fact even the 1000 acre Education city should be given only after Royal Assent,” he said.
Kuenzang Choden, Tashi Wangmo and Dawa Zangmo