They sell seashells on the seashore, but only after the DHA contractor has taken a cut of the profits. For the businesses operating on Seaview, profits are meant to be shared with a contractor who has been sublet the beach.
Ghafoor Khan, 16, says handling his camel can be tricky. It once decided to stand up while a woman was climbing on it to take a ride on the beach. She was injured and her husband shoved Khan. But that doesn’t bother him. His major concern is the Rs100 charge that has to be paid to the authorities by end of the day.
The last time he skipped daily payment for doing business along the coastal belt; one of the contractors chased him on a bike, took away the saddle and admonished him publicly.
“There are days when I can’t save enough. You know how it is with people who sometimes pay me Rs50 for just a ride or only Rs10,” he said, as he kept a watchful eye on the people around him. He was hesitant to speak at length for fear he would “get into trouble”.
The Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has sublet the Seaview beach to a contractor for Rs3.3 million per year in a bid to regulate small businesses.
The contractor is then authorised to charge anyone doing business on the stretch of the coast running from McDonald’s to the Village Restaurant. That amount can easily exceed the Rs3.3 million he has originally paid to DHA. DHA believes that this ensures that businesses don’t turn into a nuisance for beachgoers.
To make his money back, the contractor collects a considerable amount per day. Horse and camel jockeys are charged Rs100. Chaat stalls pay Rs200 and corn sellers Rs100. Four-wheel bike owners are charged Rs150 and hawkers who sell cigarettes, candies and other items have to pay Rs20.
“This is extortion and whenever we protest the DHA guards come and beat us up,” alleged Abdul Rahim, who sells chaat. “The contractor maintains our names in a register. Anyone who doesn’t pay is barred from using the beach the next day.”
None of these small businessmen get receipts against the payment of charges. They complained that the contractor’s men do so to hide how much money is actually being made at the beach.
Mohammad Sultan, an employee of the contractor, was collecting money at the beach without handing over any receipts.
“I am out of slips. Otherwise I give them regularly,” he said as a snake charmer walked up to him, bowed and handed him Rs20 without demanding a receipt. “Don’t listen to these people, they complain all the time.”
He avoided questions on how much the contractor was earning daily. “I don’t know anything about that. But we don’t earn a lot because business can be slow at times.”
Contractor Malik Shehzad insisted that he was lenient. “We don’t give them slips because a horse jockey pays me just Rs50. These people don’t have the money so we take whatever we get.”
He said that DHA had contracted the beach out to legalise the businesses. “Before us, the police and criminals use to harass and extort money from these people.”
On its part DHA says it has every right to sublet its property, which is maintained by its staff. “We keep the beach clean,” said Col Asif, an official at DHA’s estate department.
When reminded that municipal services were provided by Cantonment Board Clifton, which separately tax residents for the purpose, he quickly added, “All the land-related matters rest with us.”
He said action will be taken against the contractor for not issuing DHA authorised slips to hawkers and peddlers, but refused to elaborate.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2012.