OAG drops charges against former finance minister

ACC proposed to charge former minister and seven others in connection with illegal encroachment

Rinzin Wangchuk

After more than a year of review, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) dropped the case where the former finance minister, Namgay Dorji, and seven others were indicted for illegal encroachment on government land at Taba, Thimphu.

The OAG concluded that the investigation was carried out with neither prima facie basis nor on the discovery of credible evidence to substantiate its allegations. The OAG wrote to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) yesterday informing its decision to drop the case “entirely.”

The commission in its investigation report forwarded to the OAG on March 1, 2019, proposed to charge the former finance minister along with two former local government officials of Kawang gewog for encroaching into state land during the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) survey in 2000.

ACC’s investigation report 

In 1987, Dechen Wangmo, sister of Namgay Dorji, bought 20 decimals of wetland from Aum Bakhum. It comprised six bunds of paddy field called Churagang. The plot was numbered 166.

Seven decimals from the initial 20 decimal land was transferred from Dechen Wangmo to her sister Leki Wangmo under plot number 164.

During the course of investigation, ACC found that plot 164 was once recorded as a ‘government land’ and other time as ‘thramless.’ The 1988 detailed survey map showed plot number 164 completely as a different plot and separate from the mother plot, 166.

Later, Leki Wangmo had given her 7-decimal plot to her brother, Namgay Dorji, with the latter overseeing the 2000 NSC survey although actual transaction did not take place. During the survey, Namgay Dorji had measured a state land identifying it as a 7-decimal land in plot number 164 and moved the plot away from the mother plot 166, which tantamount to encroachment into state land. The 7-decimal plot later increased to 10 decimal.

Surveyor KB Rai, recollecting the 1988 survey and practices of the past, told ACC that there existed a general practice of recognizing some land as “Thram-less” or “Government Land” when the landowner was unable to validate his/her ownership. Similarly, three residents of Taba, stated to ACC that the “land in question was an empty land and was known to have been used as a crematorium.”

Based on the statements, the ACC concluded that the land bearing Plot No. 164 was state land.

During 2000 NSC, Namgay Dorji unable to personally represent his sister Leki Wangmo, requested a local land committee member, Dophu, to represent his sister while measuring her land, which is currently disputed by ACC as state land. The ACC report implies illegal ownership transfer of the land from Leki Wangmo to Namgay Dorji. The report concluded that the land transfer was done in 1992 and hence alleged Namgay Dorji of illegal encroachment and deceptive practice.

Both former Kawang gup Sonam Dorji and former mangmi Rinzin were implicated for two counts of offences as they endorsed the Kappa form of Leki Wangmo’s 7-decimal plot and witnessed the illegal survey, which enabled Namgay Dorji to encroach on state land.

Sonam Dorji, Rinzin and other five residents of Taba, were implicated for facilitating Namgay Dorji to successfully register a state land in his name by signing the no objection letter stating that Leki Wangmo’s 7-decimal land identified as plot 164 is registered as ancestral land.

The commission received a complaint on November 20, 2017 alleging that Namgay Dorji had encroached into state land between 2004 and 2009 at Taba. The investigation began in May 2018 during which ACC officials reviewed documents and summoned, interviewed and interrogated 19 people.

OAG findings and decision

Namgay Dorji became the lawful owner of land measuring 10.28 decimals of registered land under Plot No 164 and Thram No 711 in August 2001, and not in 1992 as concluded by the ACC report.

All the land ownership transfers, from Aum Bakhum-through two sisters – till Namgay Dorji, were in strict compliance with the due process established under Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979, according to OAG.

To determine the relevancy of the statements made by surveyor KB Rai and three residents of Taba, the OAG sought conclusive clarifications from the NLCS on the history and status of Plot No 164. The NLCS clarified that the land in Plot No. 164 was never a state land. To substantiate the correctness of its record, the NLCS enclosed old records of its Thram, survey maps of 1988 and NSC 2000-2001.

Hence, OAG established that the land under Plot No. 164 was never a state land nor vacant land without Thram as concluded by the ACC report, which is based solely on dubious statements that does not give credence to support the allegations.

“The NSC 2000-2001 was measured based on the Plane Table Survey map of 1988 and other documentary records issued by the court and home ministry as per Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979 which are directly relevant and provide credible evidence pertinent to the land ownership issue,” OAG stated.

The separation of seven decimals from its original area of 20 decimals or the slight changes noted in the shape of the separated plot was due to the demarcation of an access road between the two plots as evidenced by the survey maps of 1988 and NSC 2000-2001.

“It was not an illegal shifting of its location into state land as concluded by ACC, but by the demarcation of the new access road between the two plots which made the lawful owner, Leki Wangmo, forego 2.72 decimals while regularizing excess land.”

OAG also established that ownership transfer from Dechen Wangmo to Leki Wangmo, the demarcation of seven decimals out of 20 decimals, the assignment of new plot and Thram numbers by the DSLR, the demarcation of access road that delinked plot No 164 from the previously shared common boundary with Plot No 166, the payment made for the regularization of 3.28 decimals of excess land, and updating registered area of Plot No. 164, from 7 to 10.28 decimals, in the Chazhag Thram had all taken place when the land was still owned by Leki Wangmo.

“For these reasons, any liability arising from the alleged offence, if any, should inevitably fall on the landowner, Leki Wangmo,” OAG stated.

“Therefore, ACC proposing to charge Namgay Dorji for the alleged offence of encroachment to state land is not discernable to OAG, both in law and fact,” OAG stated. “The questions of “who to be charged for what offence” must be dictated by the facts of the case and not by preferential choice of an investigation.”

Based on the findings, the OAG determines that all the Thram transfers and regularization of excess land in the Chazhag Thram of Plot No 164 was executed in strict compliance with the requirements under Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979.

“Besides the loss of 2.72 decimals, out of seven decimals of excess area, there is not a shred of evidence, even by implication, to corroborate the allegation of encroachment into State land by the lawful owner, Leki Wangmo,” OAG stated.

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