At the mouth of the inner Thimphu city, near the Lungtenzampa bridge, are two plots of prime land with private properties.
It has become a bone of contention between the Thimphu Thromde and the Tashi Commercial Corporation (TCC). The thromde wants it, to develop into a well-planned gateway to the capital city. The legitimate owner of the land, TCC wants to develop it.
With the land embroiled in a legal battle, it will not be soon before TCC can add more infrastructure or the thromde can acquire or relocate TCC’s property, in full or in half.
The Supreme Court, after a long drawn legal battle with the thromde and TCC, declared the latter as the legitimate owner of the land. Following the verdict, TCC wanted to develop the land and approached the thromde for approval.
The thromde refused. TCC sued the thromde earlier this year – the second court case between the two.
On Thursday, during the rebuttal hearing, TCC’s lawyer, Namgay Wangchuk accused the thromde of being vindictive for not granting TCC the approval.
When the Supreme Court issued the judgment, there was a clause, which states that the thromde could acquire the land if it is for public interest. “The thromde is holding us for a ransom,” said the lawyer who pleaded the court to let TCC develop their land.
The case was first registered with the dzongkhag court, which dismissed it. TCC appealed to the Supreme Court. It was sent back to the high court.
TTC claims that their plot I22 (previously used as taxi parking) was not designated as a “green space”. The thromde tried to acquire the land, made it a taxi parking and had other plans, which indicates that the land is not a “green space.”
At the larger bench on Thursday, four justices heard the two lawyers in an empty courtroom. TCC’s lawyer focused on plot I22 stating that the plot is categorised as Urban core Sub Precinct A in the Thimphu Structural Plan, 2002-2027. In this precinct, owners can develop their land.
“The thromde is categorising the plot at their convenience. We request for administrative collateral estoppel,” he said. Administrative collateral estoppel ensures what is agreed before should be agreed now.
The lawyer said that the thromde’s unilateral decision has incurred loss to the commercial company and hampered job creation.
Urban core proposal
Thimphu thromde’s lawyer, Ugyen Dorji denies the thromde being vindictive. His argument is the grand Thimphu Structural Plan (TSP) and the Urban Design Proposal. The land in question, he said, is earmarked as the city gateway, one of the many proposed plans to extensively redevelop the urban core and transform the Urban Core into “cozy and attractive urban setting.”
“We are only following the plan. We cannot change it. It has to go to the ministry and the cabinet to be changed,” he said.
Going by the plan and the proposal, the category of the land or under which precinct it falls is immaterial. Submitting to the larger bench, Ugyen Dorji said that the issue is not about who owns the land or what category the land is. “The two plots fall in the urban core. The urban core is a dedicated plan and the thromde is only implementing the plan,” he said.
Outside the court, Ugyen Dorji claimed that TCC is confusing the court after failing to convince them. “First they questioned the legitimacy of the TSP, now they are questioning the implementation,” he said. “The plan is legitimate. By law, the thromde can acquire the land, but we are considerate and suggested relocating and substituting land.”
The thromde has other factors to insist on the urban core plan. “Given the traffic congestion, the risk of fire disasters from the fuel station, the new plan for the Lungtenzampa bridge, TCC has to agree to the plan,’ said the lawyer.
The thromde has identified substitute land at Hejo and Motithang.
Meanwhile, the larger bench has asked the Thromde to present their plan of the urban plan including the city gateway in the next hearing, scheduled for April 4.