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November 26, 2020

State of working Karachi


November 26, 2020

KARACHI: With the rising unemployment already haunting governments across the globe in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, hawkers and vendors in the largest metropolitan of Pakistan face another dilemma in the aftermath of municipal authority’s anti-encroachment drives.

To take stock of the situation, the Urban Resource Centre (URC) held a Zoom meeting titled “Karachi’s Street Economy – An Overview”, where panellists not only proposed policy, but also discussed the socioeconomic outfall of the anti-encroachment drives in the city.

Architect and planner Arif Hasan said the street economy was a larger informal economy, which employed 72 percent of Karachi’s workforce.

He described various types of hawkers; those that placed their wares directly on the street; those who owned three-wheeled wheelbarrows, four-wheeled carts, and kiosks; and those who were performers, fortune tellers, beggars, etc.

Types of entrepreneurships that hawkers and vendors undertake include selling used books, clothing, and other items that often come via transit trade.

Hasan said the vendors and hawkers had the potential to generate a significant amount of revenue for the government, if they were regularised and assisted via appropriate policy.

“After the initial bribe, local government touts / police collect an amount of Rs500 to Rs1,000/day from each hawker,” he quoted from a study undertaken by URC in 2015.

The study showed that Saddar’s hawkers from only four streets paid Rs67 million/month as ‘bhatta’ (extortion) in 2015, he added.

In a presentation, Hasan revealed that the vendors earned Rs500 to Rs2,500/day, after deducting the bhatta given to the local government system, paying Rs20-50/day to security guards, and Rs10-20/day to sweepers.

Professor Dr Noman Ahmed, dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences at the NED University, spoke about a lack of policy on street economy.

Quoting a study on Karachi’s street economy, he said, it evolved in 2018 when the Empress Market surroundings were bulldozed, which unemployed thousands.

The study covered District South, including areas in and around Empress Market, Saddar, Lee Market, Kharadar, Jodia Bazaar, etc.

He argued for the cause of the hawkers and street vendors, who he said had a right to earn their living and; thus, needed legal protection.

“India has a street vendors’ law (Street Vendors Act, 2014),” he said, adding that the municipality needed to play an important role in regularising the street economy via policy and design solutions.

“We can easily accommodate vendors along with pedestrians, parking, etc,” if the government uses the right approach and policy instead of removing the so-called “illegal vendors”, he added.

Pointing to the lack of organisation among hawkers and vendors, Dr Noman insisted that it was necessary for them to make committees with municipal representatives to fight for their right to exist in designated places.

“They should have a right to association,” which would also help support different entrepreneurs, including women and those who were differently-abled. Such committees would also help resolve internal disputes.

The professor also suggested utility companies to come up with a support mechanism or one-window operation for street vendors to allow equitable sales of the needed services. He asked for policies to be made after due consultation with stakeholders.

Mansoor Raza, researcher and visiting faculty member at NED, Department of Architecture and Planning, discussed the research methodology and shed light on the massive impacts of unemployment among those who were affected by the anti-encroachment drives.

Quoting a towel vendor, he said, “We now take zakat! In the past we were among those who gave it.” The research was based on walking tours, site visits, photo documentations, interviews, triangulation for fact-checking, etc.

It helped analyse the short- as well as long-term impacts. “Social death is happening faster and earlier, compared with the biological death,” Raza said, while explaining that rendering people unemployed by removing kiosks, dhabas, and carts, the government was increasing the socioeconomic problems among the senior citizens of the working class.

Panellists said that the study not only identified the potential for revenue, but also helped understand the link of the domestic supply chain with the international markets.

In the areas of Empress Market alone, the collective loss of earnings to the hawkers and demolished shops works out to over Rs1 billion annually.

“It is estimated that there are 150,000 hawkers alone in Karachi, and at Rs1,000/day, their annual loss in earnings amounts to Rs45 billion, which does not include the loss in earnings suffered by the supply chains,” a presentation document showed.

Instead of rejecting the street economy, the government should regulate it along with urban space by developing bylaws and zoning regulations in parks and recreational areas, the panellists recommended.