When potato growers across the country face problem in selling and storing the produce, a potato storage house in Gongthung village of Yangner gewog, Trashigang, has been lying idle.

The single-storey storage house, constructed in 2002, is embroiled in land ownership dispute after one of the residents, Tashi Dorji, claimed that the nine-decimal land on which it was constructed belonged to him. He raised the issue in 2010.

The gewog officials and village residents contended that it was a government land, as Tashi Dorji volunteered to provide the land and to construct the storage house along with another resident, Ugyen.

A villager claimed that each household contributed Nu 300 to them. “But in 2010, Tashi Dorji asked us to remove the storage house.”

He said that Tashi Dorji never raised the issue during the 2009 cadastral survey. “Even after he raised the issue, the dispute settlement committee from the dzongkhag ruled that the land was not registered in his thram.”

The villager said that the National land Commission (NLC) sent a letter to the gewog stating that the public could lease the land.

But Tashi Dorji has a different story.

He claimed that after the public and gewog administration treated the land as government land following a survey in 2009, he and his brother, Ugyen Wangdi, took the matter to the dzongkhag land office.

He said a committee involving the dzongkhag land officers and gewog leaders conducted an investigation. “I was told that the land belonged to me but since the storage house was already constructed, an agreement was drawn where I would be paid Nu 20,000 as compensation.”

He said that the incumbent gup drafted the agreement. “But for almost three years I was not paid the compensation. I had to claim my land back.”

He said that he approached NLC, which confirmed that the land belonged to him because it didn’t have  the letter “Z” which symbolises that a particular land is government land.

He said villagers refused to acknowledge the land ownership and he had to take the matter to court.

Last week, the Trashigang dzongkhag court ruled that the land belonged to Tashi Dorji.

The judgement, however, stated that Tashi Dorji was at fault for not raising the issue initially but participated in labour contribution during the construction. “The public and dzongkhag administration was also at fault for not following due procedure and examining the land before the construction works.”

It stated that the principle of law mandates that when three parties are at fault, the loss should be shared equally.

The court, therefore, ordered Tashi Dorji to pay Nu 269,727 to the public if he wishes to keep the storage facility to himself. “He should pay Nu 89,909 to the public if he wants to demolish the facility.”

The decision has left both the parties involved disappointed.

Tashi Dorji said he appealed to the High Court, as the court asked him to pay even though it was clear that the land legally belongs to him.

The villagers say that the decision has undermined public interest and favoured an individual’s interest.

A villager said that the amount will not be sufficient to construct another storage facility. “We are not satisfied with the judgement and we would like to continue this case and if need be, we would go to the highest authority for justice.”

He said that the NLC failed to consult the public, gewog leaders and dzongkhag officials while making the decision on the land ownership.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang