The government’s explanation on the Denchi land compensation issue has not convinced political parties who feel that the issue merits an ACC probe.
The Bhutanese in a series of investigative stories published on 10th and 22nd August 2012 found that the cabinet gave abnormally high compensation rates well above government rates of Property Assessment and Valuation Agency (PAVA) for land in Denchi that was being acquired for a Dzongkhag thromde.
The main beneficiary was the Prime Minister’s Aunt who had the highest land holding there. PAVA had fixed the rate at Nu 3,900 per decimal but the cabinet made it Nu 9,000 per decimal.
Politicians across political parties said that Denchi was a major lapse by the government.
G.M Sharma a senior member of the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa said, “This is a sensitive case and there should be an ACC probe into Denchi. It is clear that higher compensation was paid by the cabinet because influential people were involved.”
Dasho Penjor from the DMT said that the ACC should definitely look into the case as there is a huge case of conflict of interest.
He said, “Aum Dechen, who is the Lyonchhen’s aunt is one of the land owners in Denchi, and so Lyonchhen should have abstained from approving this but in fact the prime minister participated in the meeting and approved it”.
Dasho Penjor said he was now disgusted with the cabinet as earlier he had a lot of faith in the cabinet and even thought that the cabinet members had a high degree of moral conscience. “These people have no right to be where they are and they should stand down” said Dasho. He said, “This case is and definitely smells of corruption”.
Dr Tandin Dorji of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa said, “There is a major administrative lapse in the Denchi land case.” He said currently the Denchi land case isn’t a criminal case but he said that should the ACC feel that the case should be looked into then they should. Dr Tandin also said that laws pertaining to these sorts of cases should be looked into and that His Majesty’s Kasho’s on land should be respected.
The Opposition leader said, “The Royal Audit Authority must also look into the case to ensure that the government did not misuse or overspend public resources”.
In an earlier blog on the same issue the Opposition leader said, “To resolve the Denchi case, ACC should investigate the cabinet’s involvement for possible corruption.”
Political parties said that ordinarily the ACC should have taken up the case but they reasoned ACC has not done this so far due to the ongoing Gyelpozhing case.
Earlier the Prime Minister’s office in defense of the Denchi issue had said that the Parliament on 2nd July 2010 had declared Denchi as a Dzongkhag Thromde and hence the Thromde rate of Nu 9,000 per decimal under PAVA rules and rates was paid to Denchi residents.
While cabinet ministers insisted that Denchi be paid under the urban thromde rates different rules were applied in the case of Duksum an Urban Township in Trashiyangtse where 55.735 acres of land have been acquired to relocate and develop the current Duksum Urban Township.
A per the cabinet’s precedent set by Denchi, the 67 private landowners of Khitsang whose land was acquired in mid 2011 for the urban town should have been entitled to Nu 9,801 per decimal for commercial areas and Nu 9,770.51 in residential areas as per the PAVA’s own urban rates. This is because Duksum is listed as a throm under PAVA.
However, the government unlike in the case of Denchi decided to go by the rule and apllied only PAVA’s original estimate for Rural C class land rates.
Furthermore PAVA which was already aware of the Parliament’s decision to declare Denchi a thromde still refused to pay Thromde B rates for Denchi even after the cabinet asked PAVA to review the rates. The PAVA team in its report instead informed the cabinet that any raise above the Nu 3,952.42 per decimal for Denchi would not be in keeping with the Land Act 2007.
PAVA task force members justifying their stand on the report had told this paper that PAVA could not accept paying Class B thromde rates for Denchi as it was only a thromde in name but not in infrastructure and value. They said that PAVA has to pay for actual ground value using a complex formula.
Land Commission officials, Legal Experts and Urban Town Planners that the paper talked to had all said that Denchi should have been paid rural rates as ‘land was being acquired for establishing a Dzongkhag Thromde and not from a Thromde’. They said that infrastructure rates cannot be paid for land which does not have the town infrastructure. They also said that PAVA’s thromde rates are applied if land is taken from an existing thromde like Thimphu and not a rural area designated to be a town.
The government’s press release claimed that one of the main justifications for review of the price was when landowners in Denchi compared their rates to the PAVA approved land prices of Nganglam which was Nu. 9801 per decimal for commercial area.
However, the PAVA report rejected this saying that Nanglam and Denchi cannot be compared due to the urban infrastructure in Nanglam.
The PAVA report of 27th November 2010 says, “For the issue Nanglam does not arise as the planning has been based on land pooling method which the public of Denchi did not agree.”