Spouse and three others taken to court for alleged encroachment on state land

Rinzin Wangchuk 

After verifying investigation findings and establishing grounds for prosecution, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the incumbent Gup of Shelngana Bjemi gewog, Punakha, for official misconduct in an alleged state land encroachment case.

The state prosecutor also charged two former gewog land tshogpas and a  National Land Commission (NLC) surveyor for official misconduct and Gup Samten Phuntsho’s wife, Passang Wangmo, on whose name the land was registered was charged for encroaching on State land. The miscellaneous hearing was conducted at the Punakha dzongkhag court on April 4.

The case was initially dropped in November last year after the OAG reviewed ACC’s findings. It found that the land in question had a thram but was a case of zaglue (land record dropped from thram case). The office also couldn’t establish misuse of authority by the gup as implicated by ACC.

OAG then returned the case to ACC in November reasoning that the alleged 80-decimal plot already existed in the name of  the step father of Passang Wangmo, Shar Thinley, in his old thram along with another plot in the 1980 chagzhag thram (legitimate land ownership certificate).

The letter OAG wrote to ACC also stated that there were no criminal elements of having solicited, influenced, or instructed the two other endorsing committee members upon the misuse of authority by the suspect. The office concluded that the land, which existed in Shar Thinley’s thram was in fact omitted.

The incumbent gup was able to recontest in the third local government elections in December 2021 after the OAG dropped the case.

OAG’s special team

The OAG constituted a special team and visited the site along with a surveyor from the NLC after receiving a letter from ACC with further justifications to reconsider the case.

Attorney General Lungten Dubgyur said that field verification on January 14 this year established that the land, although reflected in earlier chagzhag thram, couldn’t be verified or identified on the ground or determined during the NCRP. The land owner by then had already requested the NLC to delete the thram records.

Based on the field visit, the team established that the incumbent Gup had surveyed the land during NCRP by showing the state land as the 80-decimal land although  it had no connections with the existing land holdings and boundaries that belonged to Shar Thinley. “The team established that the land was surveyed in contravention to the guidelines for conducting NCRP,” the Attorney General said.

The prosecutor submitted that while visiting the field, the joint verification team from OAG and NLC established that the land in question belonged to the state and two villagers the team interviewed also verified it as the state land. “Even the Gup himself accepted that since they could not identify the omitted land, it was surveyed from state land,” the prosecutor stated in its charges.

OAG also requested the state prosecutor to reinstate the 80 decimal plot to its original status as a state land.

ACC’s findings

ACC investigated the case following a complaint against the  gup in 2019 alleging that he had registered state land in his wife’s name on the pretext of surveying an omitted land reflected in her  chagzhag thram.

The complainant alleged that the plot reflected in the thram was already sold to another individual.

ACC’s investigation established that the incumbent gup had submitted an application on February 27, 2011 addressed to the surveyor stating that 80-decimal wetland plot called ‘Kuchey Parkha Damlekna’ reflected in thram number 152 of his wife existed but was not included in the map, although the plot was never surveyed during the detailed survey of 1991 and New Sa-Thram Compilation (NSC) survey in 2000.

ACC stated that since the plot could not be identified on ground, it was not reflected in any of the maps prior to NCRP in 2011. Moreover, ACC also found an application submitted to NLC on July 8, 2000 by the previous person who held the same thram number requesting the plot to be removed from his thram as it could not be found.

However, during the NCRP in Punakha, Gup Samten Phuntsho, who has been the gup of the gewog since 2004, wrote to him (Gup) on behalf of his wife claiming that the alleged plot existed but had been omitted from the map.

He then endorsed the application in the capacity of the gup along with the two sai (land) tshogpas, Gelong and Passang Dorji. NCRP surveyor Jigme Tenzin then surveyed the plot identified by the land owner’s representative, the gup himself.

The investigation revealed that the plot identified on a slope with overgrown trees surrounded by state land had no attributes of ever being an irrigated wetland, but that was ignored by the surveyor and the two sai tshogpas. They had signed the endorsement form, thereby endorsing the location and the boundary of the plot BJM-2912 on a State land which was used as a grazing area.

The surveyor had aided in the encroachment of state land by surveying an omitted plot, which had exceeded five years and had failed to conduct due diligence even after the identified plot was on a slope with no attributes of ever being irrigated.

A family member of the gup earlier told Kuensel that ACC had falsely implicated and tainted the gup’s image although the alleged State land in question was already resolved by the NLC in 2017.