Former gup to provide substitute land to the 18

Rinzin Wangchuk  

The National Land Commission secretariat (NLCS) has revoked the ownership of 18 landowners who had bought State land illegally from a former Chang gup.

The Commission had asked the land record office of Thimphu dzongkhag to de-register the ownership and return the land to the State in line with the Land Act 1979. This was also the Supreme Court’s order in 2021. The enforcement was delayed after landowners appealed innocence in buying State land.

“We have already issued an order to the dzongkhag office to enforce the court’s ruling and are waiting for the compliance report from the dzongkhag,” an official from NLCS said. The secretariat issued the enforcement order on July 25 this year.

In December 2021, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the lower courts’ rulings and directed the former Chang Gup Kanjur and former Thimphu dzongkhag land record officer, Karma Jamtsho, to restitute 2.77 decimals of land to the government and provide land substitute to the 18 lawful land buyers  within two months.

According to NLCS officials, the enforcement was delayed after the dzongkhag had written to NLCS to re-look into the case before revoking thrams registered in the names of 18 innocent buyers.

Based on the investigation findings of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the former Chang Gup for forgery, deceptive practice, official misconduct and illegal encroachment on government land by registering 3.72 acres of government land in his mother’s name in Debsi. At that time, the defendant was serving as the Chang gup.

The defendant was found guilty of forging original map of 1998 to survey two plots of land, Dzomdrak Choetenjab and Chakazhing, from the community pastureland in Debsi and forging the Kapa thram, which is a field document containing details of land holding and total acreage although the survey field report 1988 stated that there were no details to reflect the plots.

The court gave a concurrent sentence of two years and allowed to pay thrim thue in lieu of imprisonment. He was also convicted for deceptive practice as he prepared a no objection letter from the public of Chang gewog by himself stating that there is no objection in measuring the land in the gup’s mother’s name while serving as gup in 2006. He then submitted the letter to the dzongkhag land record office.

The Debsi community owned 388.6 acres of pasture land in Kumdra and Seudrak. There were two plots Chakazhing and Dzomdrak Choetenjab – measuring 90 decimals and 2.82 acres respectively, belonging to defendant’s mother.

ACC’s investigation determined that sometime between 2000 and 2005, the defendant had fraudulently registered these two plots as tsamdro on his mother’s name. He was also found guilty of inflating the acreage from 15 decimals to 2.82 acres and, from six decimals to 90 decimals, taking advantage of the excess land claim being allowed at that time. Later, these two plots were fragmented and sold to 18 individuals ranging from 0.08 decimals to 0.40 decimals.

This was possible, according to ACC’s findings, because the former dzongkhag land record officer had facilitated the defendant to process the illegal land registration. The officer had validated the plot in Zomdrak Choetenjab was not in Thimphu in 2000 but forwarded the same plot to the then department of survey and land records for plot correction approval in 2006 without referring to the previous documents. He also received a compoundable sentence of one year.

The court also directed the defendant to provide land substitute to the 18 lawful land buyers or pay the cost of land along with interest from the day the land transaction agreement was signed till the day the lower court passed the judgment.

The ruling stated that all the individuals, who were ignorant of the land belonging to the state, bought the land legally as per the Land Act 1979.