Samdrup Jongkhar business community seeks govt. intervention

PMO has directed the Thromde to compile a report on the prevailing market crisis to give the government idea on how best to intervene

The business community in Samdrup Jongkhar has submitted a comprehensive report on the deteriorating market condition in the border town to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) this week.

This submission was made after the PMO directed the Samdrup Jongkhar Thromde Administration to compile a report on the prevailing market crisis, which will give the government a fair idea on how best to intervene. 

In fact it came just two days after the Thromde Administration conducted an emergency meeting with the regional heads of the government and the business community, to collectively discuss changing some of the existing policies to make business environment in the border town conducive.  

With the commissioning of Nganglam-Gyalposhing highway earlier this year, businesses in the border town have come to a screeching halt. The new road has diverted travelers away from this historic transit town.

“Concerned members of the business community approached me, requesting for an emergency meeting on the matter,” said Thrompon Karma Sherab, in his opening statement, “I am equally concerned, and will do everything in my capacity to help.” 

Taxi drivers lost their business overnight, when travelers took to the new highway, and so did the hoteliers and restaurateurs, whose main customers were mostly shoppers and travelers from the north.

With the streets mostly empty even during the peak business season, it’s not just the service industry that has been hit hard, wholesalers, retailers and other business owners alike have all been affected by the current dry spell. Owing to this, many are mulling over closing down their businesses, particularly the hotels with its high overhead costs. 

But being a border town, it can always fall back on the Indian clients, given its proximity to the seven North Eastern States of India, making regional tourism highly feasible in Samdrup Jongkhar.  

As an answer to the current crisis, a local businessman proposed the immediate revival of the special permit, earlier issued to the regional tourists travelling beyond the municipality area, but discontinued abruptly a few years ago.

“The market will bounce back on its feet, if some of the unfavorable policies are changed,” said Karma Chuki, a member of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan – SJ.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Samdrup Jongkhar Taxi Association, Rinzin Chophel, strongly supported the idea of relaxing the entry restriction on regional and walk-in tourists.

“Like earlier we will take their risk by signing an undertaking with the immigration office,” he said, “The government should really start treating Samdrup Jongkhar and Deothang as one thromde.”

While Indian visitors get access to the border throm, they are restricted from travelling beyond the four kilometer radius of the municipality area, depriving Deothang, which is located just18kms uphill, the benefit of being a border town.

“One day permit should be issued to the walk-in Indian tourists, who wish to explore Deothang throm for sightseeing,” states their submission to the PMO, emphasizing mostly on guided tours. On its part the government can fix a ceiling on the number of regional tourists entering, and travelling beyond the municipality area in a year.

 “This way, visitors can be monitored properly, and any security concern the government has can be put to rest,” their submission further states.

   This short trip can be facilitated by local taxi drivers, or hoteliers, who will ensure their safe and timely return. Gradually, the business community hopes the government would create a permanent entry point for regional tourists from Samdrup Jongkhar, akin to the one in Phuentsholing.

While discussing the problems with the regional heads of government agencies, it was found that they have no authority over policy matters, be it allowing special permit for Indian tourist, setting up a permanent entry point for them.

The Regional Director of immigration clarified that the regulation was put in place for security reasons, but if it is relaxed by the higher authorities, his office is in a position to facilitate regional tourist’s entry from Samdrup Jongkhar. With adequate manpower and infrastructure at his disposal, he is confident his office will be able to handle the increased traffic.

The Secretary General of Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industries, Ugyen Chophel, highlighted the present emergency, where business houses were struggling to stay afloat.

“BCCI will render every possible help to revive the market,” he said, adding, he will write to his superiors about the market scenario.   

Meanwhile, the members of the business community also questioned why there are two sets of policy in place, one for Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu, and the other for Phuentsholing.

“While one town prospers, the other two are pushed to the edge,” said another member of the community, “This is discrimination if you think properly and represents the spirit of balanced regional development in a very bad light.”

Further, exemption on the monthly sales tax for low budget hotels was also proposed, citing the current market economy makes it absolutely challenging for the hoteliers to pay their taxes.

However, the Regional Director of Revenue and Customs explained they can only give concessions on late penalties, but for tax exemption, the hoteliers must appeal to higher authorities.   

Initially, it was decided that a delegation would be formed by the business community, who would approach the PMO, with the petition to amend some of the existing policies, in order to improve the ease of doing business in Samdrup Jongkhar.

“But when PMO responded promptly through the Thromde Administration, we decided to wait,” said a member of the business community, hopeful their predicament would be addressed at the earliest.

“Otherwise the market may not survive this time,” states their submission to the PMO.

pic courtesy: google

Karma Tenzin from Samdrup Jongkhar