The very name of the place, “GYALPOI ZHING” is elusive as it has geo-political connotation since time immemorial. ‘Gyalpoi’ means the King’s and ‘Zhing’ means field or land. In the first place, the natural aspect of the land can be described as a property of the King having been owned at one time by a mythological king during the reign of King Shrongtsen Gampo of Tibet (617-650). Tracing back to that period, the local myths have stories of Chinese princess married to Shrongtsen Gampo, travelling along the valleys where Gyalpoizhing spans. The story has it that she used to weave clothes at Gyalpoizhing open meadows during her sojourn. The yarns meticulously arranged into sets of chirpine looms. Those chirpine trees that served as her handlooms, in due course of time grew into huge trees forming the forest of Gyalpoizhing. Anybody travelling through Gyalpoizhing would have noticed most of the chirpine forests on the plains grow in pairs resembling handlooms. The thick forest served to the needs of the Tashi Commercial Corporation for harvesting turpentine oil, which they exported to India. It is perhaps one of the best location in Mongar region to have been used as ration air dropping field during 1962 Chinese aggression when militia recruitment took place at Lingmethang in the neighboring valley adjacent to Gyalpoizhing for the Eastern youths. It was also used as the militia training center during mass eviction of the people from southern Bhutan in 1990. No matter, the local settlers, particularly people of lower Drepong owned a large area of the land, but the state always found useful using it for national interest. Last came the Kurichhu project that drove locals as well as new settlers out of the valley. They were assured plots in due course of time when the project began to come to its shape.
The entire showcasing of the Gyalpoizhing town planning with all the dramas of allotting plots to aspiring locals appeared more a discriminating and misusing of authority with no respect to Kasho, the existing laws and regulations, thereby going beyond the boundaries of eligibilities. The entire gamut of vested interest has ultimately ended up with the March 8, 2013 court verdict in the Mongar District Court Room.
The Gyalpoizhing land case is perhaps only the tip of iceberg. If the Anti-Corruption Commission would go much deeper into investigating cases dating back to the time Bhutan began its 1st Five year plan, probably justice could be done on people who lost much of their ancestral landed properties. There are several lip-locked land owners, who walked away biting their fingers, literally carrying nothing when the government proceeded to acquiring township lands from district vicinities. Major victims were Dzong neighborhoods called Dangreps in various districts with no exception to Mongar district. Hope the children of those parents get justice some other day.
Probably, the Gyalpoizhing land allotment case would be written in the history of Bhutan in view of its first ever nature of action processed with the initiatives of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
At the outset, Dasho Aum Neten Zangmo deserves a huge round of applause for her bravery in her unwavering effort in exploring into the in-depth of the land allotment case. The ACC officials unveiled bringing out those high handed ministers to the court reminding the story of a great legend of our times. Recalling the reign of the second king Jigme Wangchuk, it was Aum Neten Zangmo’s father, Dasho Drametsepa, who singularly arrested one of the most powerful governors, the Paro Penlop. He had refused to settle the accounts of revenue collected from his region. Dasho Drametsepa is not a myth, but a reality, who bravely faced his opponent called Parop Ratru and humbled him in one of the sword fight confrontation at the courtyards of the 2nd king.
Aum Neten has thus opened the second chapter of bravery, and cherished the legacy of her father by uncovering the misuse of power and authority vested upon those officers with much trust from the throne. The 1990 mass eviction is also the result of misinterpretation of public voice by those stubborn high level public officers that brought about state unrest and victimized innocent public en masse.
The only interest to read Kuensel has been to keep track of Gyalpoizhing case while campaign on democracy in Bhutan travelled across the world. No matter how much the ACC made efforts to ensure justice through legal action against the offenders, the verdict passed by the Mongar District Court sends a dubious message to the public that sentencing them in one hand but letting loose on bail for few thousand ngultrums has some flaws in the verdict. Compared to the court sentence of three years imprisonment given for merely possessing some packets of tobacco, misusing authorities, particularly not honoring king’s order is of greater gravity equivalent to treason. In the traditional idioms, Bhutanese people would compare King’s command or order equivalent to the value of gold to trash and as heavy as a hill to be carried on the back. But the land allotment committee under the chairmanship of those dzongda (king’s representatives in the district) has not honored the command with complete sense of duty. As a result, most of the allotments were made at their own vested interest.
Gyalpoizhing does not mean that it belongs to the King and he can do anything as he liked. It is the property of the state and belongs to the people. The set criteria if followed with spirituality are of great values, but when it is not followed with honesty, dedication and spirituality, one need not require finding enemies from outside. Both the minister and speaker should have resigned on moral ground the very day ACC reaffirmed their stand after Speaker’s statement (of December 20) as he pleaded not guilty and the ACC’s rebuttal by spelling out series of fourth Druk Gyalpo’s kasho dating back to as far as 1987. The King had clearly expressed “his concerns over scarcity of land, and decreed that no one shall allot land, except himself” The ACC “reemphasized the strict order to restrain allotment of commercial plots, until the government drew up a policy and procedure, and until they were put in place”. The kasho issued back in 1991 and 2003 with circulars from Urban Development and Housing in 2001 and 2002 instructed the dzongkhags “not to register the plots until the government’s approval was received, and to keep any land allotments in abeyance until the government approval was conveyed”. However, land allotments continued without keeping in mind the contents of the kashos and notices whereby have undermined the orders from the highest authority. Further, the “OAG manipulated the case standing, stating there was no legal basis for the case to be pursued further, although the case warranted prosecution” thereby standing at bay without taking any responsibility.
There are three more courts viz. High Court, Supreme Court and the Throne beyond the district court of which the defendants can choose to proceed any further in their effort to prove their innocence given the advantage of their higher level of posts in the government. Although Mongar District Court has pronounced the verdict and sentenced the respective culprits with the degree of punishment the Drangpon felt appropriate as per law, it is yet to see whether the defendants remain satisfied or move further to appeal for review in the higher courts of law. Although the sentence ordered by the court is minimal and negligible compared to the gravity of the misuse of power and authority by the respective members of the land allotment committee, the proceedings that measured the height of those high officers in a court of law, has to some degree, tarnished their so called reputations of being dedicated servants to the unconstitutional government of the absolute monarchy that reigned until proclamation of the Democracy with Constitutional Monarchy in 2008.
- Buddha Mani Dhakal from the United States edited the article
Penjore is President of the Druk National Congress – Democratic and resides in the United States of America