More than 30 shopkeepers in Samtse are hopeful that the dzongkhag will not ask them to vacate their stalls. The dzongkhag has asked them to vacate their stalls by the end of this month to make space for Samtse town’s development activities.

If they vacate the stalls, most of them would not have spaces to run their garment businesses. Without their businesses running, they fear that they will not be able to repay their loans on time.

Kuensel learned that most of the shopkeepers operating at the stalls have taken loans ranging from Nu 150,000 to Nu 300,000 with the help of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Women run the majority of the businesses.

They are worried that they would not have money to pay their suppliers in Siliguri, India.

Tashi Tshomo, a divorcee, sells clothes. “Samtse does not have many buildings and space is limited. Maybe I will start selling vegetables,” she said.

While vegetable vendors have been provided with an alternative area to sell their produce, garment shops have not been provided with one. The construction of three new buildings is almost complete in the town, but stall shopkeepers said spaces in these buildings have already been booked.

Tashi Tshomo said the commercial spaces in one of the new buildings is too expensive. Rents would be cheaper when all the buildings are constructed, she added. Meanwhile, Tashi Tshomo is supporting her eldest daughter in a private school.

Migma is another woman who runs a garment shop in one of the stalls. She is also a divorcee.

“Many of us are from humble backgrounds,” she said, explaining that they would face difficult times if there are no other spaces identified to run their businesses. There are so many people who have to repay their loans, she added. “We do not want to complain because we have been able to use the stalls free of cost.”

Shopkeepers said that they have submitted a letter explaining why they cannot move out. They have not received any response so far.

Another woman, San Maya Barailey, told Kuensel that she cried when she learned of the news. “Operating businesses in this stall is my livelihood. My husband is sick and I have children going to private schools.”

San Maya Barailey said she has no idea how to repay her loans.

The shopkeepers are planning to submit an appeal to the dzongkhag one more time.

However, some have already started packing up.

Samtse town’s BCCI representative, Ugyenla, said that his main worry is about shopkeepers who have  to repay their loans. “They are repaying on time so far. It would be difficult once they move out from here.”

Samtse’s municipal in-charge, Tenzin Dakpa, said that the stalls should be vacated by April 1. “People should find their own space for doing business,” the in-charge said.

Rajesh Rai | Samtse