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October 16, 2020

‘Closing DHA tea shops by midnight means closing down our business’

Karachi

October 16, 2020

After braving months-long lockdown followed by an unprecedented rainfall resulting in massive floods in the Defense Housing Authority (DHA), tea shop owners in Karachi’s upscale area are set to take another hit, just when they were expecting some relief, as the Clifton Board Cantonment (CBC) has ordered all tea shops, or chai dhabas, in its jurisdiction to close their service by midnight.

The decision was taken in a CBC meeting on Tuesday. But dhaba owners are worried that they will have to bear losses if they close at 12am since people gather in good numbers to enjoy football matches.

The decision to close chai dhabas by midnight was made after a letter of October 5 from Muhammad Ali Khan, a resident of Manchester in the United Kingdom, circulated on social media. The letter was addressed to newspapers and news channels.

Khan, in the letter, lamented how his 17-year old son got addicted to drugs at chai dhabas in the DHA, after which he left the country. “These chai dhabas are very attractive for youngsters and these dhaba owners are so evil that they used this opportunity to make money and started selling drugs, including ice to these young children,” the letter said and blamed CBC’s elected vice-president Aziz Suharwardy whose son is the owner of one of the tea cafes in the DHA.

Due to their influence, Khan said in the letter, the tea shops were operating freely and peddling drugs in the name of tea and snacks. Suharwady didn’t respond to the repeated phone calls and messages by The News.

Nevertheless, the already-crippling businesses after the decision are likely to collapse, according to one of the members of the DHA Chai Dhaba Association, which has yet to be registered. There were more than 300 tea shops and restaurants in the DHA before the coronavirus lockdown, he added.

“Now, hardly little more than 200 tea cafes are operative here,” he said adding that after the new set of rules, all tea shops would wind up their businesses. DHA Society Resident Association president Sharafuddin Memon also criticised the CBC’s decision and called for a holistic approach to deal with the menace of drugs.

The rules

According to a press statement from the CBC, a set of rules have been drafted to bring chai dhabas under the code of conduct.

In this regard, a meeting was held in the CBC office which was chaired by CBC Station Commander Brigadier Abid Ali Askari. CBC’s executive officer Muhammad Saleem Watoo, DHA’s Colonel Khalid, SP Clifton, Amir Mirza, representatives of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and the chai dhabas also attended the meeting. It was decided in the meeting that drug usage and its trade would be strictly prohibited at chai dhabas.

It was also decided that all chai dhabas would install CCTV cameras within 10 days and register their employees at nearby police stations. The tea shop owners have been tasked to appoint a representative who will be on the CBC’s committee on chai dhabas. Other members of the committee will include representatives of the police, the Rangers, the ANF, the CBC and the DHA vigilance.

Tea shops have been barred from setting up tables and chairs on footpaths and roads. They have been told to ensure that beggars are not allowed at dhabas.

All shops have been directed to stop letting customers in from 11:30pm and close the shops by midnight on weekdays. On weekends, the last time to enter dhabas is 12:30am and the shops must close by 1am.

The CBC president has mentioned that due to the complaints of drug usage and trade at tea shops, chai dhaba owners must form an association and nominate a person who would remain in contact with police and law enforcement agencies regarding the presence of drug peddlers.

Impractical formula

Most tea shop owners after the new set of rules are disgruntled with the DHA and the CBC. “In the entire city, tea kiosks, restaurants operate till late in the night. That’s our nightlife, that’s our culture,” said one of the tea cafe owners on the condition of anonymity. “If there are drug peddlers involved in tea shops in the DHA, apprehend them – we will support the authorities.”

The restaurant owner shared how in the meeting the DHA and the CBC representatives discouraged keeping board games and cards at their tea shops. “What on earth this has to do with drugs?” he asked.

The DHA Society Resident Association president, on the other hand, believes that the issue of drugs in the DHA is not as simple as it seems and “can’t be controlled by closing tea shops by 12am”.

“If you close restaurants, they will sell drugs at some other place,” he said adding that even outside schools in DHA, drugs were being sold. “Will the DHA close schools now?” One of the members of the DHA Chia Dhaba Association said they were ready to help the DHA, the CBC, the ANF, but “they must not cripple their businesses”.

“The entire city remains open after 12am. Event the Boat Basin area, which is just adjacent to the DHA, doesn’t close before sunrise,” he said.

‘Review meeting’

While members of the DHA Chai Dhaba Association requested anonymity while talking to The News, the association however shared an official statement late Wednesday night. It said they wanted to support the DHA, the CBC and the ANF in their bid to apprehend drug peddlers. “If drug peddlers are using tea cafes’ platform, we will try to stop it,” the association said adding that the CBC administration had assured them to hold a review meeting after two weeks and if the situation got under controlled, their timings might be restored. The CB press statement, however, mentions nothing about holding a meeting to restore old timings.