ACC charges two former land commission officials

…For fraudulent registration and encroachment of government land in Debsi

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) forwarded its investigation report on fraudulent registration and encroachment of 1.33 acres of government land at Chang Debsi, Thimphu, to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on June 6 for probable prosecution and restitution of six plots.

The commission has reportedly implicated former land record officer of Thimphu dzongkhag, Sonam Norbu and National Land Commission’s (NLC) former survey team leader, Pema Wangdi for fraudulent transfer of idle thram through forgery and encroachment of government land.

The investigation revealed that pangzhing (dry land) named Gaychu Zamtok- Tshelnak-Nangdu measuring 1.33 acres was registered in the name of Choden from Bumthang under Chang gewog’s Chagzhag thram. The Chagzhag thram is a sole authoritative document that records and establishes the legitimacy of ownership title to land of juristic person in the country.

However, the plot in question did not exist physically and nor was there evidence of dry land being owned by Choden despite its registration in the Chagzhag thram. Choden’s daughter also told the ACC team that she does not have any land as inheritance in Thimphu although her mother lived in the capital since 1996. Choden expired in 2008.

The investigation determined that, not only did they fraudulently transfer the idle thram of Choden, they illegally surveyed the land to a location of their choice on a vacant government land. They attempted to measure the land near Tandin Nye, which was turned down by another claimant Khandu Wangmo. Later, to align the location with a plot name already recorded in Choden’s name, they illegally shifted the land adjacent to the Wangchu River, which has a bridge nearby. The team found that this was done with the assistance and knowledge of survey team leader Pema Wangdi.

The report stated that there was neither a survey report nor an approval from the higher authority to survey. But from Kapa, one of the most important documents containing details pertaining to land holding as Chagzhag thram, it was found that Pema Wangdi updated the land details during the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) survey in 2000.

The draft investigation report alleged that Sonam Norbu in complicit with late Chimi Drago, who was the former Chang gup, had fraudulently processed the transaction documents and misrepresented their children in the court of law as niece and nephew to Choden. In facilitating the fraudulent transfer through the court, Sonam Norbu was alleged to have used his thumbprint in the name of Choden and late Chimi Drago’s handwriting in the gewog’s validation form instead of a gup’s.

As per an internal agreement executed between late Chimi Drago and Sonam Norbu to transfer the land on October 19, 1999, it shows that landowner Choden became old and to render necessary care, she appropriated her 1.33 acres to her nephew Leki Tshering, son of late Chimi Drago, with 67 decimals and niece Sonam Keba, daughter of Sonam Norbu, with 66 decimals.  Late Chimi Drago witnessed the agreement.

Sonam Norbu had reportedly confessed to the investigators that he executed both the internal agreement and petition submitted to the court on February 25, 2000. His share of land was exchanged in lieu of Nu 70,000 owed to him by late Chimi Drago. He also claimed wordings recorded in the said documents were that of late Chimi Drago and that he doesn’t know who Choden was.

The Thimphu district court endorsed the petition on April 24, 2000 and late Chimi Drago and Sonam Norbu had signed on the court’s judgment on behalf of their children.

Pema Wangdi stated that the reason for surveying the land at its present location was as per a letter from the survey coordinator Kezang Phuntsho.

However, both 66 and 67 decimal plots were sold to third parties. The plot registered in the name of Sonam Keba was sold to Lungten Dema on February 18, 2008 who then sold to four individuals. The plot in the name of late Leki Tshering was sold to Seldon who then sold to two other individuals.

The ACC on May 25 this year froze transactions and developmental activities of six plots under different thrams in Debsi. One plot was already developed and had established a high school.

The commission has reportedly recommended the OAG to de-register six plots from private thrams and restitute to the state in line with the Land Act, 1979. The Act stated that any government land found to have been encroached, cultivated or transacted by any individual would be liable for fine in addition to restituting the land.

The report also stated that any aggrieved individual who bought land from this illegally transacted land and is currently holding ownership title may be, at best, advised to resolve the case among themselves. If the land to be restituted from the individuals had already constructed permanent structures, the government may be required to reimburse any expenses incurred on construction through appropriate process.

The commission began its investigation in December 2016 after receiving a walk-in-complaint on April 2, 2014 alleging that tsamdro (pasture) land in Debsi had been illegally registered in various private thrams. These allegations indicated existence of collusion with surveyors and key public officials in the land record authority.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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