Four gups and a tshogpa prosecuted so far

Rinzin Wangchuk 

With the vast paddy fields once turned into valuable landed property, land cases in Chang gewog – on the outskirts of the capital city – almost always feature in the cases looked into by the Anti Corruption Commission.

Of the 27 land cases highlighted in the commission’s 2021-2022 annual report, 23 cases were from Chang gewog involving more than 50 acres of state land.

Even as the report is published, a court judgment to restitute about 8.30 acres of state land in the gewog is being enforced. As of June 2021, 3.02 acres of state land had been restituted. From 2006 – 2017, a total of  81.65 acres of land in the country had been reinstated as government land through courts’ orders.

Four former Chang gups and one Tshogpa, who served as local government leaders between 1999 and 2017, were prosecuted, convicted and state lands were being restituted as per court orders. They were involved in fraudulent registration, encroachment and transacting of State land and manipulation of plot sizes at Tshalumaphey, Gangchey, Babesa, Chang Debsi, Lungtenphu, Serbithang, and Gyabjakha, in Chang gewog.

The anti-graft also found there were cases of shifting land from Punakha, Hongtsho and Talakha ( a goenpa high above Babesa) to urban areas through manipulation.

Before the 1980s, many residents of Thimphu owned land in Punakha and Wangduephodrang as well as in Thimphu, but were registered in a single thram even though they were under different administrative jurisdictions.  However, the thram register maintained by the land record authority did not record plot locations.

From 1980 onwards, the government segregated the registration and placed it under respective dzongkhags based on consultations with individual thram holders. This circumstance presented an opportunity to some landowners and local leaders to falsely claim land in Thimphu, in subsequent surveys, even though the location was in other dzongkhags.


How the issues unearthed

ACC launched various investigations from 2012 after receiving numerous complaints against former Chang gupsfor allegedly registering and transacting state land in Thimphu while serving as gups of Chang gewog.

Investigations revealed a range of illegal activities in collusion with surveyors and public officials.  Some complaints were already reflected in the findings of a high-level investigation conducted by a special committee under the Royal Command in 2002 and 2003.

The ACC also noted that despite many findings of illegal practices in land registration in Thimphu by the high level committee (HLC), not many were enforced strictly. In some cases, authorities allowed suspects to reinstate the land once restituted by the State in consequent to findings of the HLC on the pretext of other circumstances.

During investigations from 2013 to 2015, ACC referred and reviewed Thram history, kashos and executive orders, National Assembly resolutions, survey guidelines, and land transaction documents and sale deeds, consulted officials of the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) and Thimphu Thromde and sought their expert views wherever required.

ACC’s findings revealed that the rampant illegal practices in the land sector started when the New Sathram Compilation Survey (NSC) was conducted from 1997 to 2003 for the entire country. Local leaders then misused their duties by forging and tampering Chagzhag Thram, Kappa form, land records and surveys maps in collusion with land record and survey officials to encroach and register government land.



What is Chazhag Thram?

In 1961, coinciding with the launching of the 1st Five Year Plan, chain surveys were initiated and the entire country was surveyed from 1961-1966. New thrams were issued to landholders between 1966-1972, which was technically based on the chain surveys. Later, these thrams were posted in a separate register to serve as clerical records. Today, these thrams are known as ‘Acre Thram’ of Chagzhag Thram since the unit of area, for the first time, was expressed in acres. Until then, the unit of measurement was based on ‘langdo’.

These thrams served as a sole authoritative document that recorded and established the legitimacy of ownership title to land. This thram record was extensively used as source record by the survey teams at the time of NSC survey in order to verify the excess land incorporation during detailed survey. It was also used as the basis for settling the disputes for excess land, if any, amongst the land owners.

Detailed survey

In 1980, the 52nd session of the National Assembly resolved that the government re-survey land holdings throughout the country using modern methods of surveying to derive an accurate and precise basis for land information depicting correct land holdings. This survey was done between 1980 and 1997 and it is widely referred to as Detail Survey/Plane Table cadastral survey.

An important outcome of this survey was that the survey authority was able to generate cadastral maps which could be used as a reference document for subsequent surveys. Surveyors interpreted this map as the original map. The copy of this map was used during the NSC survey to facilitate the surveyors while verifying in the field.


New Sathram Compilation Survey

The NSC was conducted between 1997 and 2003 during which verification of the detailed survey maps with Chagzhag/Acre Thrams were conducted for the entire country. The survey was to verify and validate the legitimacy of exact land holdings of a juristic person in the country. It digitised cadastral maps and thram records.

To conduct this nationwide survey, the DSLR, then subordinated under the Ministry of Home Affairs, had compiled a guideline titled “Guidelines on the NSC 1988”.

The NSC guideline 1998 outlines important provisions governing the working procedure as well as the acceptable circumstances or preconditions under which the cases of excess land can be considered. To start NSC work, a survey team headed by a team leader was deputed to different administrative locations and the work was carried out jointly with the representatives from the respective dzongkhag and forest division. Verification of land was carried out systematically with the help of cadastral maps and with reference to field draft.


Kappa Form

This is one of the most important field documents containing details pertaining to land holding as per Chagzhag Thram, re-survey, total acreage, legalised land holdings and government land. The land registrar/thram writer was required to provide the Kappa Form containing detailed land holdings of the Thram holder to surveyors for carrying out survey work on the ground. With the details of the landholding of thram holders, surveyors physically verify the land along with the land owner and the Sai tshogpa ( a member from the community).

After updating all the thrams in one gewog, the team conducted a public hearing of the landowners during which the Kappa is read out in the presence of the gewog authorities and sai tsogpa. The landowner, if satisfied, accepts the Kappa by signing or attesting thumb impression on the Kappa with legal stamps. The Kappa is then endorsed and validated by gewog authorities, the sai tshogpa, dzongkhag representative, survey team, coordinator and forest representatives. In this process, new thrams were issued between 2004 and 2005 to landowners.

The Sa-Thram

The Sa-Thram refers to an officially accepted record of landholdings. There are different kinds of Sa-Thrams. Sa-Thram in government custody is known as Chagzhag Sa-Thram and the ones held by the landowners are known as Lagzha Sa-Thrams or Lag Thram.

The Martham Chem compiled in 1919, revised in 1936 is the earliest Chagzhag Sa-Thram. It contains the landowner’s name, name of the land, number of terraces or bunds, amount of produce and tax payable. Acre Thram, New Thram and National Cadastral Resurvey Programme are subsequent Sa-Thram.

Land Transaction

As per the Land Act 2007,  land transaction means the change of title of ownership to a land by selling/purchasing of land; inheriting of land; exchanging of land; gifting/donating of land; surrendering land to the government; order of court and default of mortgage subject to the applicable laws.”

Land registration means registering land in the Sa-Thram after the transaction, new registration pursuant to grant of Kidu, land substitute or land swapping.

Depending on the location of the land, transaction is processed either through the gewog or thromde. The transaction of land located outside the town is called rural land transaction and the transaction of land within the Throm (town) is called urban land transaction.