Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Gyalpozhing Land Case.

The trial court in Mongar passed its verdict. It seems neither side was satisfied. Critics thought it was too lenient and the penalized people thought it was unfair. The cases are under appeal in High Court. And now it’s the turn of the four High Court Drangpons to centre stage the nation.
The cases are between two sets of authorities: The Committee for Land allotment and the Anti Corruption Commission. The former is accused of high jacking the “Kasho” and the latter whose commissioners are now in their 7th or 8th year of supreme reign against the constitutional 5 year tenure is accused of high jacking legitimacy. And out in the open air, we the public spectators are ever ready to swing with the wind and also enjoy pot-shots.

The appeal courts - High Court and Supreme Court, may now need to examine just more than what accusers and the accused have stated in the trial court.

The basic question is why was the committee formed? If it was simply to allot plots as per the command then there was no need to set up a committee. The Dzongda, as representative of the King, was there to implement straight forward directives.

Were the committee members paid sitting fee like Board Directors of a corporation? If so, it was an additional responsibility with additional pay, therefore, each member is accountable. If no fee were paid, then the work of the committee was an additional burden and is it reasonable or fair to demand that a beast of burden carry more than its share of baggage?

I have heard a saying something like ‘Justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done’ It validates the essentialities of general perception. A widely held perception is a law unto itself. It influences people’s thoughts and actions and paves way for general acceptance.

Presently the national land commission holds sway over all private land holding in urban and rural areas. However a few years back, it was not so. The Town Committees allotted land and the Town administrations registered or deregistered plots in urban areas. There existed unquestionable general perception that Town Committees had the necessary authority over urban plot allotment and registration.

If the plots are to be allotted only to the original land owners then the very land should have been left in the possession of original owners. The Government could have developed the plots and charged the costs to the land owners or in lieu take possession of the part of the land holding as development cost. And if the plots were to be allotted only to business license holders, how does that benefit the original land holders? And anyways who really are the license holders? These people are not necessarily original inhabitants from the locality. Most are fast track people with financial means and acquired knowledge to complete the required formalities to possess business license, in time to get plots. Therefore, should the so called influential people or cousins be less eligible than shrewd businessman or an alerted acquaintance who acquired timely business license.

The indisputable facts are:
  1. The original land holders lost out in all the declared modern urban areas from Gyalpozhing to Khuruthang to Bajothang and countless other urban areas. The law and administrators just chose to pay minimum compensation and take away the land. After that whether a minister got a plot or a mistress got a plot or a business man got a plot, it really does not impact the life of the original land owner.
  2.  Those who have the financial means and necessary connections bought plots through allotments and maybe few could have got plots without payment through Kidu process.
  3. The accepted norm in the past for acquiring plots in declared urban areas was to apply to the Town committee. Everyone high, middle or low followed the procedure because general perception was that the Town Committee was the authority for plot allotments.
Whatever “Kasho” or even letter of Zonal Administrator that are being cited in the ongoing case were not available in public domain. Therefore only three authorities were and are equipped to interpret these documents - the two issuing authorities and one implementing authority.

Like other lay men, I am impressed with legal jargons used by lawyers fighting the case but Drangpons from same schools as that of prosecuting and defending lawyers might not so easily be impressed or stupefied.

The crux of the debates between opposing lawyers are the interpretation of Kasho and zonal administrator’s letter. Did these documents empower the committee? Did the committee error?

Now will the High Court provide the interpretation of the nuances of the Kasho and that of the zonal order? Would the judicial interpretation be in line with the thought and intent of the originators of the Kasho and zonal letter? Is it necessary or advisable for sake of delivering Justice to seek views of the originators before any Agency or Court goes ahead in its interpretation of the implied meanings / nuances of the documents especially when the accused parties are disputing the opinions of the prosecuting Agency?

Precedence: In Judiciary, past verdicts on similar cases does matter. Prior to this Land committee case, there was a construction committee case. Not just any construction committee, it was the committee for Supreme Court construction.

A drangpon of the then highest Court of the Land (High Court) was a member of the committee. According to media report, Supreme Court’s verdict was that the committee erred and in fact manipulated to award the contract to a particular construction firm. The Supreme Court directed High Court to order concerned Ministry (Work and Human Settlement) to take disciplinary action against committee members. The matter ended with that Ministry issuing a reprimand note to those committee members still under civil service. Upon legal complaint by another aggrieved party, the tender was cancelled and recalled and the contract given to other parties. Likewise in Gyalpozhing case, it is possible to revert back the allotted plots to government ownership if there were compromise of norms. Thus in both cases lasting damage is prevented / preventable.

In terms of monetary value, the Supreme Court construction could well exceed the total proceeds that Government received from the allotment of Gyalpozhing plots. A Government Committee is a committee whether of land or construction. If the Land committees erred, can the penalty be different from that of the construction committee that had erred and compromised norms.

In a court of Law, the standard of process and basis for Justice should hold true and same for both a doorman or a cabinet minister or a committee. Equal Justice under Law cannot remain a decorative plaque heeded only occasionally nor is it fair on one’s part to demand leniency for some and harsh penalty for some because before the law, it is assumed that all are equal.

Sangey of Haa Wangcha 

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