Paid Nu 10,000 a month

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

For about a month, vehicle owners in Phuentsholing did not have to pay while parking their vehicles in the congested town.

With India under lockdown since March 25, parking fee collectors, mostly from across the border in Jaigaon, couldn’t enter the commercial town, giving car owners free access to parking spaces.

But parking fee collectors are back.

Neatly dressed in kira, donning caps, these parking fees collectors are former drayang employees, rendered jobless after the government ordered the closure of entertainment centres across the country as a prevention measure against the new coronavirus.

The Phuentsholing regional labour office has enrolled them for the job. A monthly salary of Nu 10,000 has been fixed. There are about 22 drayang workers and they said they like their new job.

Dorji Yuden, 23 said her new job was more respected by the people.

“People often ask how this new job was different from working in a drayang,” she said. “They praise us for taking up the job.”

A class seven dropout, Dorji Yuden, couldn’t continue her studies because of financial problems. Her mother, a divorcee, often became sick and Dorji Yuden decided to drop from school to help.

Another fee collector, Chozang Lhamo, 25, said the job is quite similar as it is about dealing with people. “We are thankful to the government for the job. It is better than being unemployed,” she said.

Chorten Zangmo, 30, who is collecting parking fees at Zangtogpelri said drayang job was easier. “We just have to wait for customers,” she said.

A heart patient, Chorten Zangmo said she is not fit for labour-intensive work. If the situation doesn’t improve, she said she is happy to continue the fee collection, as it doesn’t require heavy physical works.

The former entertainers said that although some motorists are rude, the verbal harassment was nothing compared to the harassment they faced from drunk customers while working in drayangs.

Collecting fee when the movement of vehicle is restricted has also irked motorists.

A resident, Namgay said while some fee collectors are rude, the fee has also become expensive. “Although I understand the intent of employing our affected people, charging Nu 50 an hour for parking is expensive at this time when everyone is facing difficulties,” he said.

Parking fee agency’s owner, Kipchu, said the rates have not been changed in any parking areas. “There are not many vehicles these days and we have to pay to the thromde the same amount,” he said.

Kipchu said he is worried if what is collected from the parking lots would be enough to pay his new employees. The agency has also written to the thromde requesting a deferral on the monthly payment.

On a day, a parking fee collector collects about Nu 700 to Nu 1,000. They are also allowed to buy lunch and snacks from their collection.

Meanwhile, the new development in the parking fee business reveled that most collectors are people from Jaigaon. 

Kipchu said the Bhutanese youths are not interested in teh job. The labour office is well aware of this situation, he added.

“I even advertised the post in the newspaper, local and social media forums, but not many came forward,” he said.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the parking agency had about 38 parking fee collectors, out of which 27 were from across the border and 11 were Bhutanese.

Today, 33, including the former drayang employees, are all Bhutanese.

Kipchu said that the drayang employees would be given the preference for the parking job if the situation returns to normal.

“They can work until 6pm to 7pm,” he said, adding they can then work in the drayangs.