… will demolish market sheds on April 1

The Samtse municipality authority has denied a request by 26 shopkeepers in the town for permission to continue operating in market sheds.

The municipality has given them until April 1 to vacate the sheds.

Shopkeepers have been using the sheds to sell wares at no cost till now. However, the municipality, citing safety reasons for the construction of Samtse town, recently notified the shopkeepers to leave.

Samtse already faces a housing crunch and commercial space is in short supply. Despite construction of new buildings being given the green light, not many buildings are under construction. Of the three being constructed, most of the spaces are already booked and the rent is expensive.

It is this desperate situation that caused the shopkeepers to appeal to the dzongkhag administration on March 28. On the same day, the municipality responded that the request cannot be considered.

In its response, the dzongkhag attributes safety reasons and notifies the shopkeepers that it will demolish the existing sheds from April 1 to create space for developmental activities.

With only tomorrow remaining, the shopkeepers, most of them women, say they will face difficulties in repaying loans they availed with the help of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Shopkeeper DK Rai said that they have been repaying their loans on time so far. “This shed is my source of income,” she said. “The monsoon is on the way and we are desperate.”

DK Rai pointed out that there is not enough space for shops in Samtse. She added that the shopkeepers were hopeful that the dzongkhag would allow them to continue operating in the sheds until the monsoon passes.

Another shopkeeper, San Maya Barailey, said that the dzongkhag explained the situation to the shopkeepers and they understand why the sheds have to be demolished.

“What to do? We are helpless,” she said. “I would not be able to repay my loan as this is my only source of income.”

She said that shopkeepers are not comfortable requesting the dzongkhag for more time but have no choice.

Some of the shopkeepers Kuensel spoke with requested anonymity. “I think they are not happy about Kuensel’s recent article,” one shopkeeper said. This newspaper ran a story about their plight on March 27.

The shopkeepers emphasised they are not against the municipality and that it has been accommodating and helpful. However, they said it had been hoped that an alternative space could have been provided.

“For vegetable vendors, a separate area has been identified,” the shopkeeper said, adding that even the garment shops should be given a place. “Our shops here are the main source of income for us,” the shopkeeper said.

Samtse town faces an acute shortage of housing. The shortage is expected to worsen once existing commercial spaces are demolished.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing