THE rioters inflicted deep wounds on the economy of Karachi. They, however, did not succeed in destroying the spirit of resilient business community determined to fight against all odds and revive its activities in the country’s biggest cluster of wholesale commodity businesses.
While demolition, rubble removal and reconstruction of damaged buildings hit by violence on December 28 are in progress, many traders of the locality have resumed their business immediately after the carnage.
The smoke emitting from blackened corners of dilapidated buildings did not stop second/third generation enterprising wholesalers from arranging supplies over mobile phones for their regular customers in different parts of cities.
“Retailers who get their supplies from my shop may sympathise but cannot and will not wait for me to get my shop in order. They need supplies and will get them from some other source if not from me. Sitting here on this rented desk and chair atop what remains of my shop I am arranging for transport to pick goods from the suppliers and deliver them at the doorsteps of my customers. Yes, it will incur me additional cost eating into my profit but I will still be in business”, said Abdul Jabbar, a wholesaler at the plastic market when approached by the scribe on Tuesday, a day after the fire was extinguished.
Not everyone is as lucky. People who owned retail outlets in destroyed markets had no choice but to focus on efforts to expedite the repair of their shops besides arranging for seed capital to get fresh stocks.
“There is so much confusion with Karachi Building Control Authority declaring some buildings dangerous, the infighting amongst different local leaders for status and recognition, anglings of land mafia, and visits of VVIPs for photo sessions, it is hard to contemplate the future. We have engaged labour to demolish the structure that was ground plus one. Where will the money come from for rebuilding, we are not sure?” said Allauddin sitting depressed on the footpath in front of Zamir Estate, where he had his shop named Haji Nooruddin General Store.
Responding to a question about the claim forms circulated by the Sindh government, he expressed frustration. “I have lost all my record, even my medical file. How will I be able to provide supporting documents for a claim for my loss?
According to a rough estimate, at least 4,000 shops in 29 markets were affected on MA Jinnah Road.
A visit to the densely populated area that used to be bustling with business activities is an experience in itself. Now it looks more like a construction site rather than a bazaar or a grand polling station complete with big banners and flags of contestants. At least 20 big camps on the roadside display banners of different layers of government and trade bodies over half a kilometre patch from Boulton Market to Light House.
Some black banners are inscribed with demands of affected traders. The area is currently closed for traffic except for some private vehicles and loaders bringing men and material for reconstruction and related works. There was a mixed view about the role of the government in rehabilitation work. Generally, local and city level business leaders hailed the official response that they said, was more swift and better organised than before. Many people of the area were skeptical.
“So far, four and a half billion rupees has been pledged (Rs3 billion by the federal government, Rs50 million by the Sindh government and Rs1 billion by the US government) and we expect the amount to almost double with the generosity of other provinces and friendly countries.
A separate disaster account has been created and the pledged three billion rupees of the federal government is expected to be remitted to this account this week. The disbursement will start as soon as the verification process of claims of affectees is complete”, said Abul Majid Haji Muhammad, President Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who mediated between the victims and the government.
The total loss to property and assets was reckoned to be over Rs30 billion that affected as many as 400,000 people directly and indirectly. The estimate is based on the assumption that each of 4000 shops on an average engaged 10 regular or irregular people.
Insiders told this scribe that the Sindh government has prepared a comprehensive plan to compensate victims on need basis. For recovery of losses, they have been asked to fill a claim form complete with NTN number so that the claims can be counter checked. Besides, the claimants have been asked to get verification from market associations and route their forms through KCCI that has volunteered to act as a go-between.
A senior member of the administration said with limited resources, the government would be able to cover between 10-20 per cent of the losses of traders of the area.
“If the government takes measures to improve the business environment, it would help rebuilding of the damaged markets. He urged the government to arrange for interest-free loans for victims to re-establish their business,” Atique Mir, Chairman Alliance of Market Association told Dawn.
“It would facilitate traders of the area a great deal if the government could persuade banks to give interest-free loans to victims”, he added.
Asif Rashid, President, Boulton Market Association, was all praise for the city government that helped with men and material to restore the biggest plastic market of the region with over 400 shops dealing in raw material and finished plastic products..
“We participated in a joint meeting and decided to be led by a seven-member public- private committee for oversight of rehabilitation work. It was decided that traders will not be asked to shift location of the market and KBCA will be asked to reassess buildings,” he said.
Salim Farooqui, President, Meerat Road Market Association, who advocated the move to seek temporary place for victims in an old graveyard plot near the market was implicated by some leaders to be operating at the behest of land mafia. When confronted, Salim counter-attacked leaders who he alleged were using propaganda to shoot down a viable proposal that could put at least 400-500 small shop keepers on their feet. “They want the graveyard be converted into a parking area. They are resourceful people with narrow mental horizon. Besides, the approach to the ground is a very narrow lane, hardly 10 feet wide, so it cannot be entered by vehicle”, he said.
So far none of the shop owners have fired their workers though premises where they worked are not there any more. It probably indicates their resolve to bounce back and re-establish their businesses on the scale it was before the incident.