The institution of land administration offices actually dates back to the time when Bhutan started inventorying privately held landholdings, probably for tax assessment. However, the formal settings started only in 1956, with the establishment of Land Revenue Survey Office in Samtse. This office was mandated to carry out chain survey.

Chain surveyors with Babu Duba Tshering (with hat)
Chain surveyors with Babu Duba Tshering (with hat)

The Land Record and Settlement Office was established under the Ministry of Finance in 1967 and in 1972 the Office of the Chief of Survey was established, primarily for the demarcation of Bhutan-India boundary and topographic base mapping. These offices were merged in 1986 to form the Survey of Bhutan. In 1999 this office was renamed as the Department of Survey and Land Records and placed under the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs. This department was transferred under the Ministry of Agriculture in 2003.

The Land Act 2007 was enacted during the 87th Session of the National Assemble by revising the Land Act 1979. Pursuant to the Land Act the National Land Commission was established as an autonomous agency with 11 Commission members. The Department of Survey and Land Records has become, by default, the National Land Commission Secretariat with all its functional divisions. The Department was formally bifurcated from the Ministry of Agriculture on 15th August, 2007.

The need for efficient and effective land administration, management and governance is critical not because the land is one of the indispensable factors of production which plays a critical role for the socio-economic development of the country, but it is the priceless asset and driver for all round conservation efforts and land based resource management. The sound land governance driven through proper spatial planning and land use zoning is one of the primary sources of well-being and happiness for the people. 

Bhutan, under the visionary guidance and environment stewardship from the Golden Throne, the land administration and management and the conservation efforts are inherently built within the scope of the Land Act, 2007. 

The Act mandates the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) with the following specific responsibilities through SOUND SPATIAL AND LAND USE PLANNING AND LAND USE ZONING:

  • Manage, regulate and administer the ownership and use of land for socio-economic development and environmental wellbeing of the country through efficient and effective land administration, security of land tenure, equal opportunity to land, facilitation of operation of land market, effective use of land resources and conservation of the ecosystem (p.1). Indicating the dynamism and interconnectedness of land and the conservation efforts.
  • Submit recommendation for declaration of Thromde, industrial, and protected agricultural areas to the Government (p.4., section 6.h). The Act empowers the NLCS as a neutral agency in restraining sector driven objectives through proper spatial planning/zoning, which otherwise in the process, most of our land surface may irrationally converted to urbanization, industrialization, agglomeration and other land uses. This would then results to irreversible human impacts on the global biosphere and pose direct threats to the overall High Conservation Value (HCV) ecosystems. 
  • Identify, assess environmental impact and submit recommendation for rehabilitation program to His Majesty the King for Kidu (p.4, section 6.j). Environmental considerations are critical to avoid impact on the environment, ecology, watershed and biodiversity in the process of rehabilitation and recommending the locations. However, with limited knowledge in environment, we may have overlooked such critical aspects. 
  • Approve exchange of rural registered land with State Reserved Forests land (p.4, Section 6.k). This requires field visits and conduct an environmental impact assessment prior to recommend for approval. Similarly, applies for land substitution as per section 6.i of the Act. 
  • Approve State land and State Reserve Forest land on lease for various developmental and business purposes (p.45). Any land that will be approved on lease will have to undergo a detail field verification whereby environmental and social considerations are required.