Thromde moves in to acquire 31 acres from 104 Hejo landowners for Diplomatic Enclave

However, many landowners are ready to move court on the issue

The Thimphu Thromde in a public notice issued to 104 landowners in Hejo, Thimphu asked them to come forward and collect their government rate cash compensation for their land, which is now meant to be a Diplomatic enclave.

The notification says that this is as per the preliminary approval letter from the National Land Commission. The landowners have been given time until the end of November by the Thromde to come and fill the Private Land Acquisition or PLA forms.

The Diplomatic Enclave is part of the Thimphu Structural Plan 2002-2027 where 31.7 acres is to be acquired near the Indian Embassy in Hejo. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had originally requisitioned the land for the construction of 16 embassies and missions with around 1.5 acres for each Embassy and a river buffer zone.

The decision to acquire the land was taken around 2002-2003 by the then Lhengye Zhungtshog but got delayed over the years due to land acquisition procedures and opposition from the landowners who among others approached both the former and current governments.

Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said, “The Thromde is finally acquiring the land after the final approval given by the National Land Commission (NLC) on 22nd September 2016.”

However, despite the notification being published in Kuensel on 26th November not even one of the 104 landowners came forward to sign the PLA form which is acceptance of the cash compensation.

Instead landowners who did not want to be identified said that they are planning to move the court on the issue using the Land Act and the Constitution.

Even the Zhung Dratshang which is the largest landowner in the area with eight acres did not come forward for the cash compensation. A Dratshang land official said that he had been instructed by a Lopen to see what the other private landowners would do first.

The NLC Urban Land head, Binay Tamang said that the preliminary approval of the NLC to the Thromde is to move ahead with the acquistion process. He said that even if the landowners are not willing the land can still be acquired for public purposes under the Land Act. The Thimphu Thrompon also said that if the owners are not willing then matters would be handled under the Land Act.

Binay said that given the objection the land would probably have to be jointly acquired by the NLC and Thromde. Giving a past precedence he said the landowners in the green zone near the Dzong had been initially reluctant, but eventually except for two all had accepted cash compensation.

However, there is more opposition in the case of the Diplomatic Enclave because the green zone could not be built upon making it fit only for agriculture, while there was no such restriction for the enclave land.

For those losing their only plot of land in Thimphu, relief will be given based on the Land Act whereby they will be given sa-tsabh or land compensation in the form of a plot within Thimphu. Of the 104 the Thimphu Thrompon said there are a few eligible for this but the rest would only get cash.

The compensation rate is as per the Property Assessment Valuation Agency (PAVA) of the government, is Nu 98,611.13 for a decimal of land. The total value then comes to around Nu 313 mn to be paid to 104 landowners.

The Thrompon said that once the lands are acquired the Thromde would provide the necessary facilities like sewage, water, roads and electricity for the enclave, subject to government instructions and funding. He, however, said there was no timeline given to the Thromde on the development of the Embassy.

It is expected that Bangladesh and Kuwait would be among the first two countries to get plots in the area.

Karma Choden a private consultant whose family is affected by the acquisition said, “People will not agree to part with their land. People from all over the country are settling in Thimphu but the original inhabitants of Thimphu are losing their lands.”

Pelden Lhamo, a government employee who stands to lose around 18 decimals said that she had declined to take the money. She said she has heard of fellow landowners planning to approach the court as their main grievance was that the compensation is not fair.

Captain Namgay of the Royal Bhutan Police and his four siblings, who are all from Thimphu, stand to lose their individually inherited plots of land. He said that since he and his siblings do not own any other land in Thimphu they expect to get land compensation within Thimphu Thromde.  The Captain recounting his family history said that a large part of the current Indian Embassy belonged to his family in the past but was acquired by the government for the Embassy.

Kunga Tenzin Dorji, a senior journalist said his family recently lost land nearby to the Supreme Court. He also recounted a family history of losing vast tracts of land from Hejo to Lanjophakha to government institutions some of which even went into private hands. He said the government can easily locate such diplomatic enclaves on government land or in areas further away from prime locations in Thimphu and even if that is not possible at least the market rates should be applied. He also questioned if the Supreme Court really needed so much structures and a wide area.

Hejo residents in a past interview with the writer talked about having lost large amounts of land to the Golf course, National Assembly, Supreme Court, the Green Zone and now the diplomatic enclave.

The land owners also claimed that some part of the land acquired from them for developmental works in the past is now owned by private individuals, including former ministers and senior bureaucrats.

For the Green Zone near the Tashichhodzong, 42 acres were acquired from 99 landowners at Nu 78,500 a decimal and for the Supreme Court construction, 1.75 acres was acquired from 28 landowners.

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