It was windy and the sky was overcast in Sarpang on Sunday. Some were expecting rain as thunder roared in the distance. The rain didn’t come. Nearby Gelephu was welcoming light showers, and the last thing residents expected was news of a major fire accident in their neighbouring town.
But it did happen. Sarpang bazaar was nearly wiped out when a fire broke out at around 8:30pm on Sunday. The fire destroyed 81 shops along with the goods inside. There are 132 such shops, all semi-permanent structures.
It was an unfortunate incident. There is no good timing for a disaster to hit. But we can surmise that, like many of us, the victims would have been planning and preparing for Losar. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, as it was late in the evening and there was reportedly no electricity. Most of them would have called it a day before the accident occurred.
Officials are yet to find out the cause of the fire. Unless arson, which is not even suspected, is established, nothing will change even if they find out the cause. The cause is not in Sarpang; it is in the files and the cabinets of the government and decision makers.
Sarpang bazaar was right there on the busy highway for so long. The only view that one catches on entering Sarpang is the bazaar. It is in fact an eyesore on the highway, a scar left by past tragedies.
Not to act wise after the event, the array of mostly hutments, prone to fire, was a disaster in waiting. Everybody knew it. Apart from a risk from fire, the huts didn’t provide security. The few, who lived in the town, are always on toes when it rains for a day. It had experienced two major floods in the past.
Yet the plan to relocate the town and build a respectable one couldn’t be implemented. There is a plan, but it is moving at snail’s pace. A lot has changed since the last flood. Security is still an issue, but it is an occasional episode. The population has increased and so have the prospects. A decent town was expected to bring back the reputation of being the commercial hub it was once.
Residents are ready to build safer homes and better businesses. It is planners and decision makers who have delayed. Lyonchhoen had rushed to the scene to console the victims and give them support. A visit to the new town site was also made and lyonchhoen tweeted that he would personally initiate and expedite the new town planning.
This will come as good news after the tragedy, even though we had to wait for a disaster to speed up the planning process. Residents are also assured of a town that is “better and built properly”
A lesson has been learnt from the incident. Hopefully we will not have to wait for another fire or a disaster to expedite our development plans.