Punakha dzongkhag court sentenced 32 villagers from five villages of Toep gewog to prison terms ranging from six months to a year on May 3.

The villagers were found guilty of destroying three drinking water reservoir tanks and supply pipelines of the neighbouring gewog of Talo.

Twenty villagers were found guilty of malicious mischief and were held liable for a misdemeanour. The court ordered them a year in prison each.

Another 12 villagers were convicted of criminal conspiracy for their involvement in planning the damage.

The judgment stated that defendants can pay thrimthue in lieu of imprisonment and the villagers have to restitute Nu 15,721 each to Talo gewog administration amounting to Nu 487,350 in total within 10 days from the date of the judgment.

Among the 32, one villager passed away before the judgment hearing and has no criminal and civil liability as per the judgment.

The case started in December 2013 after villagers from Rinakha and Damchi of Toep gewog appraised Punakha dzongdag objecting to the decision that the water supply for Gangthrangmo and Hapiding villages in Talo gewog would be drawn from their water source.

The villagers of Rinakha and Damchi complained that they were facing a water shortage that had forced them to leave their fields fallow.

Four days later, they informed the Toep gup to decline the request to bring water for the two villages of Talo gewog from their irrigation source.

The gup wrote to the Talo gup to withhold the plan to draw water for his two villages from Tagolum stream as the communities have objected to the plan. The Talo gup informed the two villages through the tshogpas.

When works to lay the water supply pipes began in January 2014, villagers of Rinakha and Damchi requested the dzongdag to identify a different water source for Gangthrangmo and Hapiding villages.

As instructed by the dzongkhag administration, on March 24, 2014, Toep gewog consulted the Rinakha and Damchi villagers through a public meeting and reported their views.

The dzongdag wrote to the Toep gup stating that the gewog had earlier agreed to allow the villagers to tap the water source at Chuzam for the villages of Talo gewog. Therefore, he asked the gup to issue a clearance to carry out the construction of the water supply.

Talo gewog spent Nu 487,350 for the project under the rural water supply scheme that would benefit 120 households, a school, and other public service offices in the villages. Works completed in December 2015.

In February 2016, Talo gewog found out that three small water reservoirs at Pangchung Serpo and the pipes were destroyed and the matter was reported to police. Police found that villagers from Rinakha, Sitokha, Damchi, Lumjam, and Chhandana villages had committed the crime.

The villagers had in a meeting decided to destroy the water supply line. Seven senior individuals including the village tshogpa allegedly agreed to be the ones answerable in case of inquiries from authorities. The following day, on January 2016, 20 villagers went to Pangchung Serpo and allegedly pulled apart the reservoir tanks and pipes built for Gangthrangmo.

Tshering Palden