Thirty-two villagers from five villages of Toep gewog, Punakha were charged in Punakha court last week for their involvement in destroying three reservoir tanks and water supply pipelines of the neighbouring gewog of Talo.

Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged 20 villagers for malicious mischief and are liable for misdemeanour. If found guilty by the court, they will be punished with imprisonment terms ranging between a minimum of one year and less than three year.

Another 12 villagers were charged for criminal conspiracy for their involvement  making the plan to destroy.

In December 2013, after learning that the water supply for Gangthrangmo and Hapiding villages in Talo gewog would be drawn from above their village, the villagers from Rinakha and Damchi of Toep gewog raised their objection with the dzongdag. The villagers complained that they were facing a water shortage that led to fields remaining fallow.

Four days later, the villagers informed the Toep gup to decline the request to bring water for the two villages of Talo gewog from their irrigation source. The gup wrote to the Talo gup to hold the plan to draw water for his two villages from Tagolum stream as the communities have objected to the plan. The Talo gup informed the two villages through the tshogpas.

When works to lay the water supply pipes began in January 2014, villagers of Rinakha and Damchi requested the dzongdag to identify a different water source for Ganthrangmo and Hapiding villages.

As instructed by the dzongkhag, on March 24, 2014, Toep gewog administration consulted the Rinakha and Damchi villagers through a public meeting and reported their views.

The dzongdag wrote to the Toep gup stating that the gewog had earlier agreed to allow the villagers to tap the water source at Chuzam for the villages of Talo gewog. Therefore, he asked the gup to issue a clearance to carry out construction of the water supply.

Talo gewog used Nu 0.27 million from its gewog development grant for the project under the rural water supply scheme that would benefit 120 households, a school, and other public service offices in the villages. Work was completed in December 2015.

In February 2016, Talo gewog found out that three small water reservoirs at Pangchung Serpo and the pipes were destroyed and reported to the police. Police found that villagers from Rinakha, Sitokha, Damchi, Lumjam, and Chhandana villages had committed the crime.

The villagers had in a meeting decided to destroy the water supply line. Seven senior individuals including the village tshogpa allegedly agreed to be the ones answerable in case of inquiries from authorities. The following day, on January 2016, 20 of the villagers went to Pangchung Serpo and allegedly pulled apart the reservoir tanks and pipes built for Gangthrangmo.

Tshering Palden