Sarpang needs a town, desperately

Alka Katwal
from Sarpang

What remains of Sarpang’s temporary makeshift town are the remnants of the recent flood. And a memory!
The old town is gone. And the new one is not there yet. In between, people living in proper Sarpang are a little more exasperated every time they need to travel to Gelephu, some 32 kilometers away, or worst still, to the bordering town in Assam, India, to repair a shoe or get a stitch.
On 22 July this year, the swollen Sarpang River completely washed away all the shops in Sarpang bazaar. The flood affected 63 households and a total of 220 people. The after effects of the flood still loom large.
The new Sarpang Township planned at Shaychathang or Ranibagan may take some time.
Although the government has given the green signal to landowners in Shaycheythang to begin construction, Dzongkhag officials Business Bhutan talked to said it might take some time to complete the new town.
This means, people living in Sarpang would have to travel all the way to Gelephu or border town of Assam, about 2 kilometers away, to run small errands. That is until a new cobbler or tailoring shop is opened in proper Sarpang.
Pemba Tamang from Sarpang said residents of Sarpang have no other option but to take risk and go to the border town of Assam most of the time because it is nearer. “Going to Gelephu town is time consuming. Our school going kids on almost a daily basis either come home with a torn uniform or shoe. Since we don’t have a proper tailoring shop or a cobbler, we don’t have any choice but to go to the border town,” he said.
Sarpang Dzongkhag officials however said traveling to the border town is risky since it is not an official route. The recent news of kidnapping in Sarpang have further fueled security concerns in the area.
In addition, shopkeepers are skeptic of the location of the new township, which is about two kilometers away from the old town.
The Dzongkhag Engineer said the government has already provided with the basic amenities such as electricity, water and road and that the landowners can start construction. Landowners however said that starting the construction immediately was easier said than done.
Man Maya Rai, one of the shop owners who were affected by the flood, said the flood took away her goods worth about Nu1.1mn and investing in the new construction would be financially difficult for her. One of the landowners in Shaycheythang, she said the government must do more to help the people, perhaps by easing housing loans and other financial incentives.
Works and Human Settlement Minister, Dorji Choden, said the government is keeping the minimum requirement for the construction for the landowners to ease the pressure. However whether to ease the housing loan or not is for the financial institutions to decide, said Lyonpo.
So far about 25 landowners from Shaycheythang have submitted applications to the dzongkhad administration to start construction.
Apart from Sarpang Bazaar and Shaycheythang, Sarpang Tar also has few shops and some of the people this paper spoke to said it would have been better to make Sarpang Tar the new town,
Lyonpo Dorji Choden however said the reason why Sarpang Tar was not considered for the new town is because it is an institutional area since the Dzong, School and other institutions are all located in Sarpang Tar.
The 22 July flood also affected the on-going river embankment protection activity carried out as mitigation measures. The current mitigation work was carried out with a total budget of Nu. 14.46mn. A budget provision of Nu 20mn has been allocated for flood mitigation to Sarpang Dzongkhag for the financial year 2016-17.