The opening of Gyelposhing-Nganglam highway has led to the shrinking of businesses in Samdrupjongkhar.

The most affected are hotels and restaurants.

The highway that opened in May this year shortened the distance between Phuentsholing and Mongar by more than 220kms.

A hotelier said that his income this year decreased by over 50 percent. Over 30 hotels registered with Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) in Samdrupjongkhar share similar concerns. HRAB Samdrupjongkhar was formed recently to address the issue.

A member of HRAB said that some hotels are on the verge of selling the business. “People have stopped coming from Trashigang, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, and Lhuentse.”

Taxi drivers in Samdrupjongkhar are also facing similar consequences.

Samdrupjongkhar has about 67 taxis, of which about 56 are registered with the taxi association.

A 61-year-old taxi driver said the number of people coming to Samdrupjongkhar decreased recently. “Before I used to go to far places such as Pemagatshel and Phuentsholing at least thrice in a month. Now it has been three months since I last took any passenger to Pemagatshel. After elections the business is completely dry.”

Hoteliers in Samdrupjongkhar said that lifting the restriction on entry of regional tourists from Samdupjongkhar would help address the issue. Today walk-in tourists are not allowed to cross a distance of 4km from Samdrupjongkhar.

In September this year, HRAB Samdrupjongkhar wrote to the four political parties and the candidates from Samdrupjongkhar about the issue. The letter read that the existing immigration policy restricts entry of the regional tourists from Samdrupjongkhar.

It said that although the restrictions were put in for security reasons, the scenario across the border had changed. “With the declaration of Bodo Territorial Council, peace and stability has returned in Assam.”

A member of HRAB said that the two candidates of Dewathang-Gomdar had raised the concerns during public debate. “We are not requesting to open the floodgate but there should be a middle path whereby the security isn’t compromised and we also allow quality regional tourist to enter Bhutan.”

This, he said, would benefit the whole eastern dzongkhags. “Most of the poorest dzongkhags are located in the east. The western dzongkhags are much more developed.”

“The policies are different for entry of tourists from Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar. We are restricted and there is no balance in the income. Everyone pays equal tax. And for the people in eastern dzongkhag, Samdrupjongkhar is the main entry point. Today, Samdrupjongkhar is completely cut off,” another hotelier said.

Phurpa Lhamo  | Trashigang