Neten Dorji |  Samdrupjongkhar

With most of the automobile workshops and shops in Samdrupjongkhar closed after the border was sealed on March 23, local truckers have assumed the role of mechanics. 

A trucker, Sangay is busy with his new responsibility. He and his friends are replacing spare parts to their trucks. 

“With the closure of Indo-Bhutan border gate, mechanics are restricted to come as day workers,” he said.  

Eastern Automobile workshop manager, Sonam Choden said that the workshop has to close down until the situation of pandemic coronavirus disease improves. “It is difficult to get Bhutanese mechanics. Even when they join, they don’t stay long.”

She said her automobile workshop has 10 Indian labourers working as day workers. 

The workshops don’t have other alternatives besides relying on Indian labourers as local workers quickly move to other firms. 

Another workshop owner, Jamyang Wangyel said that most of the workshops depend on day workers from across the border. 

“Maximum of 10 and at least seven labourers are day workers in all seven workshops,” he said.  

With the business down, he is worried about paying the monthly salary and annual income taxes next month. “Though we are affected by Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway, it is the worst this time,” he said.  “I was forced by the dealer in India to clear my dues.”  

According to automobile workshop owners, 90 percent of local businessmen in Samdrupjongkhar depend on day workers.     

Sonam Dorji, another workshop owner said, “It was good business before Covid-19.” He said the monthly income was sufficient to pay taxes and salaries for labourers. “But now I don’t know.” 

He said until the Covid-19 issue is over, there are no alternatives for him.  “I don’t think we would reopen the workshop if the disease continues,” he said. 

Workshop owners said that sometimes they could earn around Nu 80,000 per month from his workshop. 

Some said most of the income goes into paying the labourers from outside.  “It is time to realised and work towards economic growth of our own country,” a workshop operator said.  

He said that all citizens have to think before depending on everything on the outsiders. 

A hotel owner in town said that Covid-19 has given them a lesson. “We realised that depending on the outsiders too much is not good.” 

She said that most of the Bhutanese don’t want to work in hotels and that has forced all hoteliers to have a minimum of two Indian day workers. “We don’t have other options other than employing Indian workers.”

One of the residents said that the coronavirus crisis has caused a huge human and economic loss in the locality. But it has also united as human beings, as all family members are together. 

Meanwhile, after closing down all entry points across the country, the Samdrupjongkhar town became silent and empty. Not many travellers are seen around the town.