The Gyalpoizhing Mongar Township

Published on Aug 20 2011 // Opinion
By Thinley Penjore

Perhaps, reporting by Bhutan’s kuenselonline.com on Gyalpoizhing, Mongar dated 13 August, 2011 is what I have long awaited for. It is informative, timely and appreciative. And, it is not surprising to understand that “24 of the 25 acres acquired for township have been parceled out to various ‘outsiders’”.

Gyalpoizhing was initially a fallow land amidst thick forest of pine trees. The natural cliffs built of solid rocks high above the main trail that passes through the open meadows of lemon grass, bedded with the carpets of green pastureland, made it a beautiful scenario. It faces a rocky bank of Kurichhu, legendarily believed to be the trail of dying souls depicted on it. The rich and gorgeous Kurichhu thus passes down the valley leaving behind the enchanting gushing melody of its powerfully forcing down-flow. The entire meadow feed herds of local cattle and horses from the neighboring Drepong village that once served as camping site under open sky for traders from villages around Mongar district, who annually visited the marketplace of Sharchhokps at the Indo-Bhutan border town of Samdrupjongkhar. I vividly remember the journey, mostly during winter months, along that route when I enjoyed accompanying my father for annual shopping. A small portion of the meadow towards the east had terrace cutting, which the people of Drepong used them for rice cultivation.

In the early 60s, the entire land served ration-dropping-field for militia recruits, who were undergoing military training at Lingmethang (presently having developed into a satellite town) on the other side of Kurichhu. My father was one of the military recruits during that period of time. Nearby village men, who had no rice production used to rush t o that open field to collect left-over rice bags damaged during the air-drop. In the mid-70s government declared it a vacant forest land available for the fresh settlement of landless people from the neighboring villages of Mongar. It was during the tenure of Dzongdag Tashi Tshering that mass allocation of cultivable lands was declared for the so-called landless people. However, in the later years it was observed that most of the land plots were registered in favor of those closely related to Dzongdag himself and some to the influential bureaucrats in the civil service. The cultivation, on the other hand, was not promising and gradually saw it turning into a barren land once again. I am not sure whether sincere land allotment really took place at that time.

In the 90s, when the people in south showed resentment towards the government’s policy that brought about disagreement to the racially, ethnically and religiously negative impacting policy, Gyalpoizhing was converted into a militia training center for those youths mobilized from the east Bhutan. In the later years, when the Kurichhu river was chosen for the construction of 60MW hydro-power plant following an agreement signed between Bhutan and the Government of India in 1994 with financial aid from the Government of India, the entire site once again, probably for the final time became a promising economic pocket for potential entrepreneurs and local trading houses. There was a good future foreseeing the establishment of project administrative blocks and other essential infrastructure developments. Obviously, the project opened vistas for the people of Mongar district in particular, in terms of trading houses, schools, health posts, transport communication and opening several sales hubs for village products. It is unfortunate that the greedy upper hands in the bureaucratic circle seems to have ultimately taken advantage of the people’s humbleness. The pieces of land and plots acquired for a promising township has actually gone into the wrong hands.

I am sure this is not a single case. The Anti-Corruption Commission needs to expand their wings of vigilance to study and give justice to the victims of so-called projects and township developments. It will perhaps be justified to trace back into the cases of land acquisitions and allotments back in late 60s and the following decades.

Inviting a probe into nostalgic eventualities of the past episodes, every major district headquarters had colonies of local dzong related workers called, “dangreps”, who were responsible to fetching water, providing services of grinding grains for the district administration, urgent assignments and so on and so forth. When the modern township planning was launched, those villagers, who owned lands and houses inherited from their ancestors, were driven out with no deserving compensations or resettlement to a land equivalent to the lost.

Quoting what has been reported by Kuensel, “A landowner, who used to own about 15 acres of paddy field in the current Gyalpoizhing town, expresses his regret over losing his land to the government in the late ‘90s.” The owner has wished to remain anonymous, probably fearing persecution, despite worldwide campaign of the government to have allowed freedom of speech to the people as an essence of democracy. Ironically, the fear of perpetration against people speaking the fact continues to prevail.

It is further appreciating of the Kuensel that reported, “Among the beneficiaries are prime minister, national assembly speaker, cabinet ministers, and members of the royal family, former dzongdas, corporate executives and members of dratshangs.” The official paper thus continues to report, “The 16 shopkeepers were allotted only 7.26 decimal or 3163.4 square feet each. ….. The first allotment was done in the late 1990s, when the present national assembly speaker, Jigme Tshultim, was the Mongar dzongda……..The second phase of allotment was scheduled for 2001, which never happened. On the contrary, there are shopkeepers, who have been running businesses in the town for ages but never availed plots …….Of the total area of land, only 1.16 acres out of 25 was allotted to 16 shopkeepers, while the remaining 24 acres of land were allotted to the people in the list.”

It is sad that the downtrodden people continue to maintain tight lips and those in power with unlimited privileges going rampant, pouncing on promising lands and grabbing other additional opportunities besides lucrative packages provided to them as incentives being people’s trusted representatives in the parliament. Our growing generations thus require being alert enough to break the strings of absolutism and feudalism that has made our ignorant and innocent people subservient, directly or indirectly.

If anybody tries to point out at such findings, like the simple answer that has flashed back in the case of the reported subject, “…..we haven’t received any proposal for Gyalpoizhing town …I don’t know how it was approved and done”, the trend will continue to pass down the tradition if there is failure in tracking down such issues.

The eligibility criteria for plots enshrined in “The latest land rule is the Land Act 2007,” which says, “The eligibility criteria for plots in the town require applicants to be a landowner in the town, business license holders and one family can have only one plot, between 13 and 15 decimals” remains good in the book but turns out to be worse while being practical or implemented in the field.

At the decision making level in the respective ministries, the balls are kicked from one division to the other as aptly quoted by “Kuensel” – “Land commission secretary, Dasho Sangay Khandu said that he was not in the position to comment on the case as it happened before 2007, before the Land Act came into effect” and is reportedly quoted as saying, “It is the responsibility of the works and human settlement ministry since Gyalpoizhing is classified as urban area”.

Without real democracy, these trends will keep increasing, whereby; the poor will continue to be poor for generations, while the inherent cohorts in the government will keep on flagging their fascinating slogan of “happiness” in the international arena and ignoring pitiful cases back in the country.

In absence of true democracy in the country, the ACC has been no more than a mere show-case of elephant tusk, that cannot be expected much to do any justice to the underprivileged people. It neither could curb down such ‘unruly acquisitions’ that are evil and unhealthy for the common people nor could it go rampant after those clever hands with heavy pockets. Hence, the only remedy to address the multifaceted problems in the country is to usher-in true democracy of the people for which every Bhutanese has to be conscious and committed.

Thinley, president of Druk National Congress (Democratic) can be reached at lekitp@rediffmail.com