Tuesday April 23, 2024

Nationwide protests: Rallies staged, shops shuttered against rising inflation, high power bills

There were widespread market closures in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta

By Our Correspondent
September 03, 2023
People walk past closed shops on 2nd September 2023, against the unreasonable increase in electricity bills and taxes. — AFP
People walk past closed shops on 2nd September 2023, against the unreasonable increase in electricity bills and taxes. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Thousands of traders across the country shuttered their shops on Saturday, striking over soaring energy and fuel bills.

There were widespread market closures in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, and almost all the big urban centres, where abandoned bazaars showed placards decrying “the unreasonable increase in electricity bills and taxes”.

In Karachi, citizens protested against inflation in Shah Latif Town, blocking the flow of traffic on the National Highway. Traders associations and political parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Markazi Muslim League and others observed a shutterdown strike.

All major markets and business centres, including grains, furniture, grocery, meat, medicines, gold, clothes, and electronics markets remained closed. However, some of the small markets and shops in residential areas were partially open.

The main commercial hubs, which remained closed, were the Lighthouse Medicine Market in Old City, Liaquat Market, all electronic markets in Saddar, Hyderi Market, Nazimabad, Super Market, furniture and cloth markets in Liaquatabad and Lasbela, main markets at Qauidabad, Timber market in Old City and others.

The strike call was also supported by lawyers, who boycotted lower courts. The strike remained peaceful and no untoward incident or violence was reported. However, due to the closure of markets, public transport was partially available for commuting. In various areas of the city, political activists held protests.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi Ameer Hafiz Naeemur Rehman dubbed the strike a verdict by Karachi and Karachiites against the ruling regime and said that the successful strike across the country reflected the public sentiment towards the ruling elite in the country.

In Hyderabad, major business markets and centres remained closed on the call of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Anjuman Tajran Hyderabad, while normal activities resumed in small markets and many areas.

Hyderabad City’s Cloth Market, Shahi Bazaar, Faqir Jo Pir, Choori Market, Resham Bazaar, Tower Market, Urdu Bazaar, Gul Centre, Latifabad, Station area, Saddar and its adjoining markets remained closed.

However, business activities were as usual at Fateh Chowk, Hussainabad, Hala Naka, Jamshoro Road, Qasimabad, Wahdat Colony, GOR Colony, Fateh Chowk and adjacent areas.

A protest rally was held against an increase in electricity bills. Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami, District Hyderabad, Aqeel Ahmad Khan, led the rally.

Anjuman-e-Tajran Hyderabad also took out a rally and protested in Hyderabad. Both the Sept 2 and August 28 strikes remained partial as traders did not support each other due to differences.

In Lahore, a complete shutterdown strike was observed in all the major markets, but shops in small markets remained open. Though the strike coincided with the call of Jamaat-e-Islami, traders leaders said the strike was apolitical.

President Grand Traders Alliance (Lahore Chapter) Anser Zahoor Butt said it was an independent decision of the traders to protest against the high power bills. He said the alliance is not affiliated with any political party and the JI that independently issued strike calls never approached the traders in this regard.

Butt made it clear that the Alliance did not want any disruption in routine life of citizens. He said unjustified inflated bills forced the traders to register their protest. Saturday’s strike was the first shutterdown exercise undertaken by traders in more than a decade. During the past 10 years, some traders bodies did observe strikes in only a few markets. But this time, all traders bodies united to ensure a complete shutterdown in major markets like The Mall Road, Liberty, Brandreth Road, Akbari Mandi, Shah Aalami, Hall Road, Beadon Road and other major markets.

Some shops remained open in Garhi Shahu, Dharmpura, Thoker Niaz Baig, Garden Town, Model Town and other localities of the city. The strike call was for one day only. It was unique in the sense that all earlier strikes by shopkeepers in Lahore or Pakistan were against documentation of economy. Traders have always forced the government to withdraw any measure that could lead to documentation of the economy.

Observers said the one-day strike would have little impact on the government’s stance. Sources said major traders bodies were still aligned with the powers-that-be and might not approve of an indefinite strike.

“Everyone is participating because the situation has become unbearable now,” Lahore’s Township Traders Union President Ajmal Hashmi said. “Some relief must be given so people can put food on the table.”

“The bills we have received this month exceed our earnings,” said Babar Mahmood, president of the Electronics Market Traders Union in Lahore. “There is a growing disconnect between the general public and those in positions of power.”

Eunuchs also held a protest against the unprecedented hike in electricity bills and besieged the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) office in Mareer Chowk. They were holding banners inscribed with slogans against inflation and inflated power bills. They chanted slogans against the government and IESCO. A heavy contingent of police was deployed outside the IESCO office.

Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Sirajul Haq visited various markets in Lahore on Saturday to monitor the success of the countrywide shutterdown observed on his call against the massive hike in electricity tariff on the IMF demand.

Expressing gratitude to the trading community for supporting the strike call in larger public interest, he said markets and shops remained closed in Lahore and in big cities like Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and other cities to protest against the callous, anti-people policies of the ruling elite.

Later, addressing a protest rally against inflation at The Mall, where he demanded the caretaker government to revert its decision to increase power tariffs, Siraj warned of widespread public frustration outbursts if they failed to do so. He said the strike was peaceful, sending a clear message to the ruling authorities that the Pakistani nation sought its rights without resorting to violence. He argued that the caretaker government lacked the authority to make critical decisions, as such matters should fall within the purview of elected public representatives.

Separately, the JI leadership of Islamabad/ Rawalpindi also thanked traders for observing a shutterdown strike against inflated electricity bills. JI Central Naib Ameer, who’s a former MNA from Islamabad, Mian Muhammad Aslam, and Islamabad Ameer Nasarullah Randhawa visited different business areas and met protesting shopkeepers and traders, a statement issued by the JI office said. JI Rawalpindi Ameer Syed Arif Shirazi also said traders and shopkeepers fully supported the call of shutterdown strike. “We thank traders who rejected the increase in electricity tariffs and increase in prices of petroleum products,” he said.

Traders split into two factions on JI’s call for a shutterdown strike in Sargodha. President Anjuman-e-Tajiran Sheikh Nadeem Khawar said he would participate in the shutterdown strike but would not hold a rally, while its general secretary spoke against the strike at the request of a political party. He assured to support the strike if announced by Anjuman-e-Tajiran.

The lawyers of the district bar in Faisalabad announced a strike, too, with protests in the city recorded by citizens at Canal Road and Digikot, demanding to abolish taxes by burning tires and blocking the road for traffic.

In Mandi Bahauddin, traders observed a shutterdown strike against the increase in electricity bills, and all small and major markets as well as commercial centres in the city remained closed.

Traders in Arifwala announced a shutterdown with trade organisations supporting and announcing to keep shops and businesses closed across the city.

In Chichawatni, the strike was also supported by lawyers due to which people showing up to attend hearings were affected. Shops were also closed in Kasowal, Iqbal Nagar and Ghaziabad.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC) Saturday observed a complete strike across the province to protest against the hike in prices of petroleum products and electricity. The bar also suspended license of general secretary of Bahawalpur Bar Association for appearing before a court despite the strike call. The Punjab Bar also suspended the secretary from his office and sought a written explanation by Sept 9.

In interior Sindh, citizens, business community and others took to the streets against inflation in all main cities, including Sukkur, Larkana, Hyderabad, etc. Mostly led by Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and workers, they staged rallies against inflation, high prices of petroleum products and inflated electricity bills.

All commercial hubs and business centres remained shut in Sukkur, Larkana as well as other cities. The traders bodies warned that if the interim government did not withdraw the hike in power bills in 72 hours, they would hold a prolonged strike for 10 days.

There was a complete strike in other cities, including Thatta, Gharo, Makli, Dhabeji, etc., while traffic on roads remained thin.

Also, a complete shutterdown and partial wheel-jam strike was observed across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Saturday on the JI chief Sirajul Haq’s call. All big and small markets presented a deserted look as the major cities in the province remained closed and children were seen playing cricket and other games in marketplaces.

Big and small rallies were arranged by the JI workers and traders to express concern over the price hike and electricity bills and press the government to withdraw the hike in rates of electricity and give the maximum relief to masses.

The provincial capital remained closed for all kinds of business activities. Some of the shops in certain parts of the city were open in the morning, but protesters visited those areas and got those shops closed forcibly, especially in Reti Bazaar, old Peshawar city.

A big protest rally was arranged at the main hub of business activities – Ashraf Road. The rally was led by provincial general secretary of JI, Abdul Wasi, former MNA Abdul Akbar Chitrali, district chief of the party Bahrulllah Khan, president Anjuman-e-Tajiran Sharafat Ali Mubarak, traders community leaders Khalid Ayub, Atif Haleem, Haji Naseer, Khalid Gul Mohmand and others.

They said the prices of electricity had been increased to Rs57 per unit of which 46 per cent were taxes, which were unjustifiably collected from the poor masses.

A complete shutterdown was observed in almost all cities of the Swat district against electricity bills and price hike. JI’s Provincial President Prof Mohammad Ibraheem Khan led protest rallies in Matta, Madiyan and Bahrain bazaar.

In Upper Dir, complete wheel-jam and shutterdown strike was observed in Dir Upper. A big rally was arranged to express anger against the price-hike and inflated electricity bills.

A shutterdown strike was observed in Abbottabad, Havelian and even in Galiyat along with surrounding areas of the district on the countrywide call of JI as well as traders organisations.

The lawyers community also stayed away from courts to protest against the high electricity bills and high prices of food and daily consumable items.

A protest rally was also staged by JI Abbottabad. JI district head Abdur Razzaq Abbasi led the rally.

In Swabi, a shutterdown was observed across the district. A protest was held at Karnal Sher Khan Chowk in district headquarters. Such protest demonstrations were also held in the four tehsils of the district.

In Jamrud, JI activists staged a protest rally against inflation at Bab-e-Khyber. Carrying various placards, the protesters chanted slogans against the incumbent government over the high inflation.

In Landikotal, residents, traders and workers of political parties observed a shutterdown here. JI Landikotal chapter and traders union Landikotal bazaar led the protest rally. They burnt tyres on the Bacha Chowk in Landikotal Bazaar and suspended all kinds of traffic for hours.

In Haripur, amid boycott of local traders, the local chapter of JI took out a protest rally to condemn the heavy taxes in the electricity bills here. The rally started from Chowk Sheranwala Gate and ended at Chowk Siddiq-e-Akbar.

Shutterdown strikes were also held in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Kohat, Nowshera, Batkhela, Chitral, Shangla and other districts of the province.