Younten Tshedup | Sarpang
With the new Sarpang township at Shechamthang slowly taking shape, things are looking up for the once bustling commercial hub of the south central region.
Several buildings have mushroomed in the last few years. Other developmental activities are also underway.
Records with the dzongkhag engineering sector show that some 15 buildings – single, double and triple-storey have been completed while six are under construction.
Officials say they received more than 40 construction drawings from plot owners so far.
Works to construct connectivity roads, water supply and drainage system also began since November 2018 with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
With almost 95 percent physical and 77 percent financial progress, the water supply project is expected to complete by March end. The road construction and drainage system is being implemented in two phases of which the first phase is scheduled to complete by May this year and the second phase would be executed next year.
Bleak economic viability
However, despite the notable development progress at the new township, which is identified as a dzongkhag’s commercial hub, people have shared concerns regarding the commercial viability at the new location.
While the technical design for the new town, which is provisioned for 25 years, began since 2010, relocation picked up following the July 2016 flashflood in Sarpang that destroyed most of the then Sarpang market.
Business operators say there are no customers mainly because the new town is located far away from the primary settlement, which is at Taar (dzong area).
A businesswoman, Januka Chhetri, said that although she did not own a plot at the new location, she had to relocate since her old business was destroyed in a fire incident in 2014.
“Except for the dusty roads and labourers, there is no one in Shechamthang to buy our products,” she said. “There are hardly any people living here. All the customers are concentrated in Taar where there are active business operations.”
She said that if the dzongkhag could consider relocating all the business firms in Taar to Shechamthang, the business in the new town could grow.
Shopkeepers said that it was difficult to even generate the monthly rental fee, let alone make profit in the new town.
A hotelier, Mamta Parey said, “Officials maintain that Shechamthang is a commercial hub, the main market for Sarpang dzongkhag. But we hardly get a single customer in a day.” She said that the rental fee and other bills amount to around Nu 17,000 a month, which they have to currently manage from their own pockets.
She added that the dzongkhag should allow some of them to operate business from areas where they own lands. “Without land here, most of us have to pay rent. Without customers, it is very difficult to sustain.”
Another shopkeeper, Tempa Sherpa, said that he had come from his village Shangkha (old Rato-Pani) in Gakiling gewog expecting better business prospect in Shechamthang. “So far it has been a disaster. We barely make Nu 3,000 a day because most of the customers prefer going to Gelephu or Taar.”
He said after failing to earn the monthly rental fee, his house owner has reduced the fee to Nu 7,000 from Nu 8,000 recently. “However, if the situation doesn’t change and the town fails to attract customers, I might have to relocate or go back to my village.”
Spread across an area of 223 acres above the Sarpang checkpoint, Shechamthang local area plan (LAP) is divided into 522 plots.