It is clear from a chorus of criticism by Parliamentarians, political parties, local government representatives, civil servants and private employees that the two controversial new changes in the Draft Land Bill 2012 are highly unpopular.
One is allowing the cabinet to grant ‘resettlement land’ and the other is changing the entire composition of the National Land Commission by having only ministers as members and excluding the Gyalpoi Zimpon.
Many feel it is an unconstitutional and unwise move of the government to try and replicate the Land Kidu powers of the King. The Constitution only allows the King to grant Land Kidu. Many also fear that this along with the dramatic change in the Land Commission’s composition will politicize land issues in the country.
Many of the problems in Land Administration in Bhutan is not because of the Land Act 2007 but because clauses in it are not being properly implemented. The solution is to enhance the implementation and oversight capacity of the National Land Commission (NLC), not make the Act more complicated.
Ministers getting ‘Kidu like’ land powers and also taking over the National Land Commission are definitely not the solution but instead it will only further complicate matters.
The mandate of the Land Act is to solve everyday administrative land issues and improve it, not delve into Land Kidu issues, which is the prerogative of only His Majesty the King.
There are questions on whether a new and much more complicated Land Act is needed when most people have not even fully grasped the current Land Act of 2007.
The current Land Act 2007 has 319 clauses but the Draft Land Bill 2012 has 472 clauses. Most of the new clauses are not improvements but the transfer of Land rules into the Act further complicating the Act.
The current Land Act 2007 constantly uses the word ‘Commission Secretariat’ in relation to executive and secretarial activities of the NLC. However, the new draft land bill only say’s ‘Commission’ even in relation to secretarial activities. This will mean that NLC could be the first government agency where both the policy making powers of ministers and secretarial powers of the bureaucracy will be vested in the all powerful Commission.
Another change is that in the current Land Act 2007 the NLC is referred to as an ‘independent authority ‘ but in the draft Land Bill 2012 it has been changed to ‘competent authority’.
In the case of Commissions or constitutional bodies like ECB, ACC, RAA great care is taken to insure there is little or no political interference and they have autonomy.
Some may argue that an elected government in a democracy has rights over land but then applying the same argument ministers should take over ACC, ECB, RAA, BCCI, and Media Houses. The March 2008 mandate given by the people was to rule the country as per the constitution and laws, not subvert it.
The NLC under its current composition is already accountable to the government as most of the members are government secretaries who are accountable to their ministers and ministries. In fact some senior and junior bureaucrats carry out even unethical actions if their ministers so command it.
The whole process of drafting the Land Bill 2012 is highly suspicious where even sitting NLC members had no idea about a Bill that has everything to do with NLC. The Draft Land Bill while introducing clauses that tampered with His Majesty’s Constitutional prerogative on Land Kidu was not even shown to His Majesty the King.
The Royal Kasho on the Land Ceiling restricting even Royal Family members land ceiling to 25 acres is a major initiative. Common sense would now dictate that the Draft Land Bill 2012 should be put on hold until the next session so that the Royal Kasho is properly incorporated and reflected upon.
Members of Parliament should also take time out to reflect if they are upholding the true aspirations and the sentiments of the Bhutanese people and following the Constitution on the Land Bill.