People whose land fall under the right of way (RoW) of transmission lines are allowed to farm and construct houses, according to the Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma.

This was said in response to Dagana MP Surjaman Thapa’s question on the ministry’s intervention to address issues related to RoW of transmission lines.

According to the Electricity Act of Bhutan 2001, no person shall build any structures or do any activity on land within the proximity of the area covered under RoW without prior approval from the Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA).

The Act states that the licensee shall pay full compensation to the landowner for loss of income from the land or damage caused to the land.

Surjaman Thapa said that more than four million ngultrums was paid to the people whose land falls under the tower construction as compensation. “However, as there are no clear rules or guidelines for any sort of compensation for the land that falls under the RoW of transmission lines, people are facing numerous problems.”

Two transmission lines of 400kV and 220kV pass from Wangdue to Lhamoidzingkha through Tsirang and Dagana respectively.

Lyonpo said that because of the land Act, some people do not get the land replacement, and in the land where there was the tower footing, people get cash compensation.

The Land Act of Bhutan 2007 states: “The minimum parcel of land that shall be registered in a thram is 10 decimals.”

Lyonpo said: “In 2013, the National Land Commission (NLC) issued a notification stating that the land under the transmission line could not be substituted because farming or construction was allowed unless it obstructs the RoW.”

Farming and construction of animal shed or residential houses are allowed providing distance from the transmission lines and towers is maintained, Lyonpo said, adding that people through the local government should seek clearance from BEA.

However, an interoffice memo from the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) from August 28, 2013, states that NLC notified BPC that “except for inability of constructing the residential house (s), there is no affect for the crop cultivation.”

It further states that private land falling under the transmission line shall not be entitled to the land substitution or compensation.

A resident from Karmaling gewog in Dagana said that although people were allowed to farm under the transmission lines, it was risky.

“Some areas are not cultivable land and, in these places, we have to grow arcade nuts or fruits that were not allowed by BPC,” the resident said. “Construction of a house or an animal shed is out of question.”

Giving land substitute to every person whose land falls under RoW was impossible, the resident said. “But we are expecting the government to bring forth ways or options for the affected people.”

Lhamoidzingkha Gup Surja Bahadur Limboo said that land under the transmission lines does not get a land substitute.

He said that all the land some residents own falls under the transmission lines and house constructions are not allowed. “Some people do not even have a place to build a house. So we have requested the government and BPC to study the cases and give them land substitute.”

He said that people even raised health concerns when they have to live under the transmission lines.

Before erecting the towers, some people had to relocate, he said. “We are not aware how clearance was given to BPC to erect transmission towers.”

Lyonpo said that the hydropower and power system department under the ministry and BPC, after thoroughly studying cases, gave substitute land to the affected.

“But not all land can be substituted,” he said, adding that in future the same issue could arise with transformers and electricity poles connecting households.

Lyonpo said that the recently approved Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy 2021 requires the project developers, a corporate body established for construction and commission of a hydropower project, to consult with people before any infrastructure development such as transmission towers, and to use the land from the state reserve as much as possible.

“The project developer has to work out rehabilitation and resettlement of affected people, which is expected to resolve the small landholding issues,” Lyonpo said.

He said that the government was investing in alternative renewable energy.

He informed the House that with support from the Asian Development Bank, the government would install solar plants in Bumthang and Wangdue. “Diversification of energy source is important.”

Lyonpo said that although hydropower was self-liquidating there were additional costs like idling charges and interest during construction.

By Chhimi Dema 

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk