Thimphu shopkeepers concerned over the influx of ‘unofficial beggars’

Bhutan is renowned for its Gross National Happiness Index where happiness has a value. Various international magazines and online publications have described Bhutan as a happy place without any beggars.

However, recent developments have compelled local authorities and residents to acknowledge the presence of beggars in the capital Thimphu that has a population of over 100,000 people.

Shopkeepers, in particular, have expressed frustration and dissatisfaction with the increasing number of unofficial beggars infiltrating their businesses daily. Many of these individuals are deemed capable of working and earning a decent livelihood, and yet they choose to rely on begging instead.

This trend has disrupted the smooth functioning of shops and establishments in various areas, including the popular shopping areas near the Centenary Farmers’ Market, Olakha, Babesa and the core town area.

Some of the shopkeepers in Babesa shed light on the issue, stating, “Most of these unofficial beggars can work and earn well, yet they choose to ask for money instead. It is disheartening to see them entering our shops regularly as the business has been badly down.” The shopkeeper further mentioned that these individuals often arrive drunk and resort to using offensive language when given a lesser amount of money.

With the businesses being down for the year, one of the shopkeepers also voiced out for the singing reality shows asking for donations. The shopkeeper in Olakha shared a related concern regarding the impact on their businesses. “We do give a significant amount of donation for reality show contestants, particularly those participating in singing competitions. However, it becomes quite bothersome when multiple donation seekers approach us in a row, leaving no room for regular customers,” the shopkeeper explained.

“I don’t hesitate to offer them a decent amount, but it becomes difficult when they demand notes of hundreds of ngultrums. It puts an unnecessary burden on our business,” said another the shopkeeper.

It is important to note that both the presence of beggars on the streets and door-to-door begging by Gomchens (religious mendicants) are prohibited by law in Bhutan. The increasing number of unofficial beggars are infringing on the regulations, making it crucial for relevant authorities to take necessary action to curb the issue.

A shopkeeper in the town expressed his frustration, highlighting the financial burdens he faces amid a lack of sales. “I have to cover a shop rent of Nu 26,000 and an additional Nu 12,000 for my house,” he disclosed. “To make matters worse, we experience slow business throughout the day, with no sales until late afternoon at times. It becomes increasingly frustrating when a series of unofficial beggars visit the shop, disrupting the already challenging circumstances. Some of them utter out offensive words when given a lesser amount.”

The presence of these unofficial beggars has prompted shopkeepers to raise awareness about the situation and seek appropriate measures from local authorities. They believe that a collaborative effort between the community, law enforcement, and relevant organizations can help address this growing issue effectively.

As Thimphu continues to develop as a vibrant city, steps need to be taken to strike a balance between supporting the urban poor, those in dire straits, and maintaining a conducive environment for local businesses. The concerns raised by shopkeepers highlight the need for a comprehensive approach that promotes sustainable solutions, welfare programs, and opportunities for individuals to earn a livelihood.

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