Busi­nesses in Sam­drup Jongkhar town come to a halt

Ever since the Gyal­posh­ing- Nganglam high­way was com­mis­sioned ear­lier this year, a dry spell has cast a shadow over the border town of Sam­drup Jongkhar

Business Bhutan - - Front Page - Karma Ten­zin from S/Jongkhar

While hand­ing over his ho­tel to the new owner, Budhi Man Ta­mang had only one thought in his mind - what could have he done dif­fer­ently to save his busi­ness?

Giv­ing up his life’s work and in­vest­ment wasn’t easy for the 41 year- old. Hav­ing spent the last two decades nur­tur­ing his busi­ness, which had given him and his fam­ily a steady life, he never thought he would have to give it up one day.

“But hold­ing on meant bank­ruptcy,” he said.

For the last six months he had been pay­ing the bills from his

per­sonal sav­ings and with busi­ness down by 80%, he could no longer con­tinue.

“I still have two school go­ing chil­dren; their ex­pen­di­ture has just started,” he said, adding he fears for their fu­ture now.

An­other new owner of a ho­tel, Pema Lepcha, 34, is equally con­cerned too. He has in­vested a lot of money on the ren­o­va­tion works, while try­ing to give his ho­tel a new makeover.

Asked why he took over the ho­tel de­spite be­ing aware of the mar­ket sit­u­a­tion, he ex­plained that the cur­rent cri­sis is not driven by the mar­ket dy­nam­ics but rather it’s due to a pol­icy re­stric­tion, which if tweaked would trans­form the whole econ­omy in the re­gion.

“We can­not do much about the new high­way, but we can al­ways fall back on re­gional tourists from the north east­ern states of In­dia,” he said, “The new gov­ern­ment is keen on pro­mot­ing tourism in the east, and I am hope­ful it would be ini­ti­ated at the ear­li­est.”

Al­though the 77-km Gyal­posh­ing-Nganglam road has greatly ben­e­fit­ted the peo­ple of the north­east­ern re­gion, it had a cat­a­strophic im­pact on the busi­nesses in Sam­drup Jongkhar as trav­el­ers now take the new high­way.

The once fa­mous gate­way to the east and the old­est tran­sit town in the coun­try is com­pletely iso­lated and dry to­day.

Omni Kr­ish­nan, a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion hote­lier, had never seen the mar­ket hit such a low point in the last 45 years he has been in this busi­ness.

“It’s sup­posed to be our peak sea­son but look out­side the streets are empty,” he said.

In the past cou­ple of months he has de­faulted on his taxes and had bor­rowed money to pay of the staff salary and other over­head costs.

“Mar­ket is dy­ing,” he warned.

Like him, Sonam, who runs a low bud­get ho­tel in the town, has also failed to pay the sales tax for the last cou­ple of months, and has al­ready re­ceived two no­ti­fi­ca­tions from the cus­toms of­fice.

Bhutanese trav­el­ers and shop­pers from the north were his main clien­tele but with the con­struc­tion of the new by­pass from Nganglam, he lost his busi­ness overnight.

It’s not just the ho­tels and restau­rants; busi­ness in gen­eral has been hit hard.

Sonam Zangmo, a 28 years old gar­ment dealer, had to travel ev­ery two months to re­plen­ish her mer­chan­dize, but this year it took her al­most five months to clear her old stock.

“Where have all the peo­ple gone,” asked Raj Ku­mar, 56, a bar­ber, whose fa­ther started the busi­ness from a sim­ple hut some 50 years ago. Like­wise, the man­ager of Ta­mang Elec­tron­ics is equally wor­ried as he did not re­ceive a sin­gle cus­tomer in the past five days.

The Re­gional Sec­re­tary of Bhutan Cham­bers of Com­merce and In­dus­try (BCCI), Ugyen Chopel, also ex­pressed con­cern over the mar­ket tak­ing a nose­dive.

He be­lieves pro­mo­tion of re­gional tourism will re­vive the lo­cal econ­omy and end the dry spell.

“I am not talk­ing about open­ing the flood gate or un­der­min­ing the se­cu­rity, but to fix a ceil­ing on the num­bers of re­gional tourist’s en­try from the border town,” he said.

Cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion rule in Sam­drup Jongkhar does not per­mit In­dian tourists to travel be­yond the mu­nic­i­pal­ity area. Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial from the depart­ment, this rule is in place due to se­cu­rity rea­sons.

How­ever, ear­lier, In­dian tourists were al­lowed to travel be­yond Sam­drup Jongkhar on spe­cial per­mit, es­pe­cially af­ter an un­der­tak­ing was signed by the con­cerned per­son or agency fa­cil­i­tat­ing the trip.

“But it was stopped about three years ago. If that ar­range­ment is re­vived, it could solve the cur­rent mar­ket woes,” said Karma Choki, from Ho­tel and Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion of Bhutan in Sam­drup Jongkhar.

She added we should take ad­van­tage of the prox­im­ity with Guwa­hati, a bustling city of one mil­lion peo­ple, and the shop­ping des­ti­na­tion for the peo­ple of the seven north east­ern states of In­dia.

“There is huge scope for tourism in Sam­drup Jongkhar and its trick­le­down ef­fect will be felt across the en­tire east­ern re­gion,” said a res­i­dent of the town.

Ten­zin Dorji, 40, a cab­bie, re­counted how ear­lier more than eight big taxis would de­part for Phuentshol­ing from Sam­drup Jongkhar ev­ery­day but now hardly two taxis get filled.

“Most of us have bank loans. At this rate, we may have to switch to a new trade,” he said, adding In­dian tourists should be al­lowed to travel be­yond the mu­nic­i­pal­ity area.

The Sam­drup Jongkhar Thrompon, Dasho Karma Sherab, also agrees that re­gional tourism would drive the lo­cal econ­omy, and that in the past the Thromde Ad­min­is­tra­tion had writ­ten to the con­cerned au­thor­i­ties re­gard­ing the same but to no avail.

“There is a lot of po­ten­tial for eco-tourism here,” he added.

How­ever, he thinks the busi­ness com­mu­nity should not be com­pletely de­jected by the cur­rent cri­sis. Once the in­dus­trial area in Mar­tanga is com­plete, he said, it will bring in a lot of peo­ple, and greatly ben­e­fit the busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Mean­while, Bidhi Man Ta­mang runs a small restau­rant on the ground floor of the same ho­tel build­ing he gave up a month ago.

“Un­for­tu­nately, even restau­rants aren’t do­ing that well,” he said.

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