Paying for land

priceless

It’s autumn. And the Tashichhodzong, when viewed from the North, looks beautiful. Tidy terraced fields, lush with golden paddy present a perfect foreground for Thimphu’s auspicious dzong. Many generations of travelers before us would have, no doubt, taken in almost exactly the same tranquil view.

And thanks to the government’s plans to maintain that lovely stretch of land, many generations of travelers after us could also enjoy the uninterrupted view of the dzong. To ensure that that piece of property stays as it is, the government has decided – and rightfully so – to acquire 42.32 acres of farmland in Hejo.

But the owners are not happy. They feel shortchanged.

The original inhabitants complain that they’ve already lost most of their land to the government. The National Assembly, Royal Banquet Hall, Centre for Bhutan Studies, Jimithang barracks, golf course, cremation grounds, and Wood Craft Centre all stand on land that once belonged to them. They point out that the compensations they received were never sufficient to purchase land of similar value elsewhere. And they worry that, once again, they are being compelled to give up their lands at undervalued prices.

They know that the Constitution and the Land Act allow the government to acquire their land for “public purpose”. And they agree that securing and maintaining the space around the Tashichhodzong is important. But they are unhappy with the price that the government has fixed for their land. They do not see it as the “payment of fair compensation” that the Constitution guarantees them.

So how much are they being paid? Nu 180.38 per square foot.

And why are the land owners not happy? Because Nu 180.38/sft is a pittance. By comparison, land in Jungzhina, which is upstream and further from the city centre, fetches Nu 600/sft; land in Taba, which lies even further upstream, costs Nu 600/sft; and land in relatively distant Kabisa already costs Nu 300/sft. Downstream, in Olakha, which is further from the city centre than Hejo, land prices are soaring at Nu 1000/sft for residential plots and Nu 1700/sft for commercial plots.

It’s no wonder that the land owners in Hejo are unhappy. The Nu 180.38/sft is nowhere near what they would need to buy comparable land anywhere else in Thimphu.

The property assessment and valuation agency (PAVA) appraises and fixes property prices for the government. And PAVA’s rates for Hejo are low because most of the land lie in the so-called “green area”, a zone on which government policy supposedly prohibits all construction. PAVA’s reasoning is that if you can’t build on your land, then your land can’t be worth too much.

But PAVA’s argument has two drawbacks. First, the government has allowed construction in the green area. The Supreme Court is currently being built on the 10.75 acres of green area, also in Hejo, that the government acquired from 28 owners at Nu 150/sft. So the land owners argue that, since the government can easily change policies to allow construction in so-called green areas, their land should be worth much more.

And second, there isn’t any legal provision allowing land to be categorized as “green area”. Section 19 of the Land Act recognizes 8 categories of private land – chhuzhing, kamzhing, cash crop land, residential land, industrial land, commercial land, recreational land and institutional land, but no land category for green area.

The government is correct in acquiring the land to protect the Tashchhodzong. But the Hejo land owners should not have to bear the brunt of the cost of doing so. Most of them are farmers. And many of them have already lost a lot of their land to development.

Instead, the government should advise PAVA that “green area” is not a legal land category, and that, as such, they should revise their valuation of the Hejo land.

Meanwhile, I’m writing to the minister of finance, urging him to protect the fundamental right of land owners as enshrined in Article 7 Section 14 of the Constitution:

A person shall not be deprived of property by acquisition or requisition, except for public purpose and on payment of fair compensation in accordance with the provisions of the law.

 

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  1. While there is an immense value and importance in preserving the area around Tashichodzong as “green zone”, but at the same time we should not deprive local land owners for good reasonable price. My view is that people should be paid rate that are currently prevailing around Thimphu. Ofcourse, prime city area rate is exorbitantly high, but rate close to Nu. 500-600 per square feet seems reasonable.

    Cheers

  2. Dorji Drolo says:

    Hon’ble OL, you tend to jump to a conclusion abruptly without having understood or done proper study of the situation. I fully agree if the land were still owned by the original owners, I mean the local residents who are still residing in Hejo, but the scenario is now totally different.
    Most of the lands in the area were already sold at very low rates (say 10 to 15 thousand per decimal)to civil servants, business people and others and now, with the government compensation rate of 180 plus per sft., these people who bought the land at less than 50 per sft. getting huge unearned income. We should consider that in to account instead of making abrupt conclusions.

    And, every body knows that area is earmarked for green area some 20 years back and it is not the outcome of Thimphu Structural Plan. I think the government compensation rate is fairly high enough for this area, unless if special considerations were to be made to original land owners which can be traced out from the records.

  3. lamakheno says:

    OL, Are you saying that land acquired in the late 90s for constructing the sewerage tanks at babesa and the expressway construction should have been paid the same rate as the commercial price exisitng than in the same area? Don’t focus on the land behind Tashichhodzong alone but look at the national picture. Throughout the country, government has been, is and will be acquiring land for constructing schools, hospitals, roads, training centres, airports, offices, etc. and the compensation paid is much less than what these new owners of Hejo lands are getting vis-a-vis the market prices in their respective areas. Can the exchequer afford to purchase all acquisitions for public use at market rates? May be you have a stake here as you may be one of the owners but let us be fair to those who have alreadt given land for development earlier such as the owners of the land area where the supreme court is under construction.

  4. Sadly a version of a story may vary depending on a place, time and situation. Treatment could have been uneven depending on these and other host of factors.

    Fortunately we have an invariant constitution that protects our fundamental rights. I think, like it or not, this should override all other grievances and we should respect it. The bottom line or a guide from here is/should be – “A person shall not be deprived of property by acquisition or requisition, except for public purpose and on payment of fair compensation in accordance with the provisions of the law.”

  5. BUT What is a “fair compensation?” For some, even the market rate may not be considered fair. And fair for whom? The land owners of Hejo or the public at large including those who have to give up land for lesser compensation in other areas and for other purposes. There are rumours that even land owners of Paro Airport are coming up with a request for compensation at the present rates. How can we handle such “percieved historical unfairness?”

  6. I think ”fair compensation” means compensating justifiably, not satisfactorily. The former is objective while the latter is subjective. The issues of this sorts are real and ongoing. We all know how our Government acquires private lands for socio-economic developments. The land owners have not much say over the decision, be it land replacement or monetary compensation. This clearly contradicts with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution as pointed out by the OL.

    Respecting others’ rights would undo such “real and ongoing injustices”

  7. IKnowBetter says:

    Dear OL,
    Take care not to act too smart all the time. You are being irresponsible attacking the government all the time. This is not a trait of a reasonable man. Do a research of the land holding in that area and comment once again. It shows you as a stupid person to comment on things that you have no understanding about.

  8. Dorji Drolo says:

    Actually, many crooks are making huge profit (unearned income) out of the big compensation rate of government. It is also these crooks who were behind pushing to raise the government compensation rate to this high amount of 180 plus per sft. The compensation rate for this area should have been much lower actually.

  9. People like Lamakheno and I knowbetter, why are you so rude? Can’ you can put your objection in a polite and civilised manner. It is impossible to voice any sort of opinions to people like you.

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