OAG charged woman for encroachment on state land, appeals to Supreme Court

Rinzin Wangchuk 

Finding similarities with past illegal cases of encroachment on state land and defrauding the government, the Office of the Attorney General recently moved the Supreme Court when a defendant allegedly measured 53-decimals land in the Thimphu Thromde for her land in Trashigang goenpa, Hongtsho, Thimphu.     

The OAG appealed after both the Dzongkhag court and High Court (HC) ruled that the defendant, a 75-year-old woman, Wangmo, from Guma gewog, Punakha,  “shifted” the  plot from Hongtsho to the thromde (above NPPF colony) legally. It stated that there was no deception and that the plot was surveyed and transferred legally.

Affirming the lower court’s ruling, the HC also ruled that the woman also paid Nu 357,354 to the government for the excess 41 decimals, which was also surveyed by the National Land Commission (NLC).  “She had transferred her thram in her name legally and not deceitfully as charged by the prosecutor,” HC’s ruling stated. 

The woman and her niece from Thim Throm were acquitted. The court stated that the prosecutor could not prove beyond reasonable doubts. 

OAG charged the woman for illegally measuring 94 decimals, including 41 decimals of excess land, in connivance with her niece and the former Chang gup by falsely claiming that her 53 decimals plot called Chimdong was in the thromde (called Pangchang Khorloi Tag Kasha Lumpa) when the actual location was at Hongtsho. This happened on November 11, 2000 during the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) survey in the Thimphu Thromde area.

The woman was also accused of falsifying an undertaking purporting that the land named Chimdong had been in the said location for ages with her other plot. The OAG said this was done with the intent to illegally transfer the 53-decimal plot in thram number 86 from Hongtsho to Thimphu thromde area.

She was also accused of submitting a false document to the survey team declaring her claim was validated by local people and tshogpa which was grossly misleading.

The niece was charged for helping her aunt to defraud the government into surveying her 53-decimal plot and deceptively validated in writing her aunt’s false claim.

Grounds of appeal

OAG appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the nature of the case was similar to the six cases where the OAG had successfully prosecuted and restituted acres of state lands to the government. The prosecutor stated that there was strong evidences to convict both defendants and restore the 94 decimals land to the state.

The woman had earlier confessed to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that the 53 decimal plot in Hongtsho “measured” in Thimphu during a NSC survey in 2000, along with her brother’s land named “Pang Chang Khorloi Tag” above the NPPF colony, was state land. 

During a joint site verification with the NLC in 2018 at Hongtsho, the woman showed the team the same plot as the 53-decimal land that was reflected as in the thromde confirming  the land surveyed in 2000 during NSC was the same land in Hongtsho.

The woman also signed an undertaking when NSC surveyed the land stating that land Chimdong, or the vegetable garden land measuring 53 decimals, is together with land Pang Chang Khorloi Tag Kasha Lumpa, apple orchard measuring 6.72 acres. However, it was known that there were no such houses in that area. 

Finding opportunities

Before the 1980s, many residents of Thimphu owned land in Punakha and Wangduephodrang as well as in Thimphu registered in a single thram even though they were under different administrative jurisdictions.  However, the thram register maintained by the land record authority did not record plot locations. 

From 1980 onwards, the government segregated the registration and placed it under respective dzongkhags after consultation with individual thram holders. This circumstance, according to ACC findings, presented an opportunity to some landowners to falsely claim in subsequent survey and claim land in Thimphu even though the location was in other dzongkhags. 

The ACC investigation found that the woman owned agricultural land both in Thimphu and Punakha in the same thram under Chang gewog until 1981.  The thram included a plot called Chimdong measuring 53-decimals. The 1981 thram suggested this plot as Thimsa meaning a plot of land in Thimphu and thereafter found to have been registered under thram 86 of Chang Gewog. 

During a detailed survey in 1988 in the dzongkhag, for some reason this plot was not surveyed. The investigation determined that this gave the woman an opportunity to misrepresent the facts in subsequent surveys for the new sathram compilation. 

The woman was accused of not only “shifting” her plot to Thimphu but also measuring 41 decimals in excess, increasing the total acreage to 94 decimals. 

ACC received numerous allegations for allegedly registering and transacting many government lands in Thimphu through deceitful means by owner themselves or with the involvement of the people in power. 

In the woman’s case, ACC received a complaint through post on October 21, 2014 against Kinlay Wangdi, a hotelier in Thimphu alleging that the land at Trashigang was illegally shifted to Thimphu prime area in 2000. The investigation, however, did not find any evidence of Kinlay Wangdi’s involvement as alleged in the complaint.