Victim-shopkeepers wonder how long it will take before they can get back on their feet

Update: While dzongkhag officials are still compiling reports on property damage from the February 15 fire that gutted 81 shops in Sarpang town, residents are impatient to start their business at the new town location.

However, the town plan at Ranibagan is yet to take shape.  Basic facilities, such as water, electricity and an internal road network, have not reached the new town location.

With school going children and dependents to take care of, shopkeepers, who lost all their business in the fire, are worried how long they will have to wait before they can reopen their shops.

A 37-year-old divorcee, Suk Maya Biswa, has two children studying in private schools.  She was meeting the school expenses from the small shop she owned at Sarpang town before the fire.  Since the fire, she has been living with her parents at Sarpang tar.

“There’s no space at Sarpang tar to run a shop, and we’re not allowed to restart our business in the old town area,” she said. “What’s more painful at this moment for us is the never progressing new town plan.”

She said, those like her are left without a choice than to wait for the establishment of shops at the new location.  The mother of two, however, does not own a plot at Ranibagan.

Another shopkeeper, whose wine and liquor shop was lost in the fire, Milan Karki, said that, although he had a plot at the new location and wanted to start constructing a house by availing loan, he was unable to make a move.

“Without basic facilities at the new location, we can’t construct houses,” he said. “We’d be grateful if the government could speed up the town plan progress.”

Of the 132 shops at Sarpang town, the fire razed 81 of them.  Indian nationals owned 39 of the burnt shops.  Police are still investigating to confirm if the fire that night had started from a burning candle or short circuit.

Sarpang town tshogpa (representative), Karma Tshering, said about 25 people were still staying at the relief camp that the dzongkhag arranged after the fire.

Since it is a season for areca nut business, some of the shopkeepers have taken it up to meet daily needs.

He said, until the new town comes up, shopkeepers might have to remain engaged in small businesses for a living.  He also said that only about nine shopkeepers own plots in the new location.

Meanwhile, trade and industry’s regional director at Gelephu’s, Tenzin Choeda, said Sarpang has a total of 52 Indian nationals holding Bhutanese business licenses.  These 52-license holders, he said, have been running their businesses for over four decades.

He also clarified that these businesses do not fall under fronting. “Gelephu and Sarpang have the most number of fronting cases among the border towns, but the issue has been already sorted out,” he said.


Nirmala Pokhrel