Although the development of Sechamthang (Ranibagan) town in Sarpang is in full swing with mushrooming of multiple buildings, landlords feel that getting tenants will be a huge problem.
Apart from the residents of five villages above the town and commuters plying the along Gelephu-Tsirang National Highway, the town does not expect many visitors unlike other towns. Around a hundred staffs working at the Sarpang dzongkhag administration have their residences at Sarpang Tar, which is nearby. And also a few employees of corporations and financial institutions with the branch offices presently located at Sarpang Tar reside at the old town.
Some buildings have already been completed but are yet to get tenants. And most of the new buildings are occupied by temporary workers who will leave after completing their work.
Thinley Tobgay has a three storied building meant for office space. But only two are currently occupied and the rest are empty. Bhutan National Bank Limited has recently opened an extension office in his building. The other one is rented as a restaurant. “We are expecting better returns in the future. Currently we are repaying loan from our pocket. We don’t know what the government has in plan,” his wife Deki said.
The town if complete would also face competition with the old town at Sarpang Tar, where there are more than 10 shops to cater to the staffs at the dzongkhag office. Also the nearby Indian town, Muray which is a few kilometers from Sechamthang will be another competitor selling cheap and easily available goods, according to the shopkeepers.
The town is yet to have all required varieties of goods for the customers.There are a few groceries, hard ware shops and restaurants today. There is one automobile workshop. But once the town is complete even cobblers and barbers are expected to reside here.
With increasing number of shops, the shopkeepers are worried about limited customers. “We are having limited customers today. We can’t imagine what will happen if all the buildings are completed in the town,” said Shei Tshering Sherpa, who recently started a grocery shop.
Also, more people would opt to travel to Gelephu as they could avail varieties of services which would be unavailable at the town.
The only hope for the people there is for new educational institutions for population to increase. The other hope for them is to open Sarpang to Lhamoidzhingkha secondary highway which goes through the town.The travel time will reduce by around two hours if the highway is opened.
The plot owners are also hoping that the dzongkhag administration will relocate the shops in current Sarpang Tar to the new town for the town to flourish. They feel that if the shops are relocated, it would be easier for the people to shop from the nearby town than to travel a kilometer long to Sarpang Tar. The old town has extension offices of financial institutions and a post office. “The economic condition of the town will boost if the highway is opened and the educational institutes are opened in the town,” said a resident, Jigme Namgay.
However, Tashi, Senior Dzongkhag Human Settlement Engineer said it is impossible to relocate the existing shopkeepers to the new town as they have established themselves at the old town. However, the dzongkhag will not allow any new business in the town; the applicant will have to open at Sechamthang town. so far the dzongkhag has not issued any license to operate business in the old town. “We cannot compel them to move as they are well established here. But no license will be issued for businesses here,” he said. “Also, there cannot be institutes as the Local Area Plan (LAP) for the town is complete and cannot be changed.”
Tashi also said that the new town will help staff working in the dzongkhag to get residential units as many are currently residing in Gelephu town.
The previous government identified the new township in Sechamthang after the old Sarpang Bazaar was washed away by the 2016 flood. There are 522 plots distributed to individual owners. The dzongkhag completed LAP for the town in 2012. Since then the Dzongkhag Human Settlement sector approved 38 construction proposals among which 11 were completed and issued occupancy certificates. Eight structures are under construction, which are expected to complete soon.
However, there is no deadline to complete the construction. Also the land owners have the liberty to construct structures of their choice to promote organic growth, according to a Dzongkhag official.
The work on development of road, drainage and water supply started from 2018 with financial assistance of Nu 180mn from Asian Development Bank.
Krishna Ghalley from Sarpang