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Illegal occupancy in Merak

Land: When herders of Chebling in Merak started replacing their bamboo roofs with CGI sheets, eyebrows were raised on whether the nomads were building permanent structures in tsamdros (pastureland).

After an inspection by officials from the dzongkhag land record office, it was found that the brokpas had indeed built permanent structures. This directly translates to a case of illegal occupancy.

Land record officer, Gyembo, said most of the houses were found to be either semi-permanent or permanent structures because the houses had foundations dug, CGI roofing and windows.

“The land was registered as a community tsamdro until the government took over in 2007. We would be forwarding a report on the case to the National Land Commission very soon,” he said. “A whole community has sprung up in Chebling.”

The whole area also falls under the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and people should have informed the park authorities before building permanent structures or prior to going for CGI roofing, dzongkhag officials said.

SWS officials said that construction of any permanent structure in Chebling should be routed through the park office and then endorsed by the dzongkhag.

“Otherwise, people have the right to lease the tsamdros from the government,” an official said. “We were not informed by the community on anything.”

However, even if people lease the tsamdros, construction of any permanent structures is still not allowed. Merak gup, Gaydhen said that although the act says people can lease tsamdros, the procedures were not mentioned.

“For instance, we don’t know the rates for leasing tsamdros and what are the conditions involved. People are more than ready but the Act is yet to be implemented,” he said.

He added that the pastureland was first issued to 25 households. Today approximately 85 households are there in Chebling. Brokpas spend about seven months in the village every year.

“The houses are supposed to be semi-permanent shelters and herders use them when they migrate to the lower areas during cold season,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tshering Wangdi, a herder from Chebling claimed that they were not building any permanent structure on the pastureland.

“The tsamdros belonged to our forefathers and it is the only place where we have our rights. We cannot go to other’s tsamdros,” he said. “Should the government tell us that our houses were illegal, then we are willing to dismantle.”

The CGI sheets were provided by the UNDP/GEP through the small grant programme.

Officials from UNDP/GEF said that the community came forward with the proposal and it was routed through the dzongkhag. After putting up the proposal for project screening, the CGI sheets were distributed looking at the benefit to the environment and the community.

“The highlanders need to replace the bamboo roofing once in every two years. The coming of CGI would reduce usage of bamboos and wood,” an official said.

Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang

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