In Manghopir, 30-year-old Anwar toils hard at a marble factory for 12 hours a day. Covered in dust and with fingers swollen, he struggles with pushing giant, uncut marble blocks through a cutter machine to slice them into smaller slabs. At the end of the month, his hard work earns him a paltry Rs12,000, which fall short of his family’s monthly expenses.
A few months ago, the situation for Anwar and his co-workers at the marble factories of Manghopir was a lot better, as they used to work extra hours and made additional money. “We used to work in night shifts and thus got paid overtime. We easily met our expenses back then,” said Anwar, who had wrapped himself in a plastic sheet to avoid soiling his clothes from the muddy water thrown out by the cutter machine.
He then switched off the machine and started dumping the small marble shavings in trash. “Our work has been greatly affected by the electricity shortage in Punjab as most of the raw marble goes to Punjab,” he said.
More than 350 medium- and large-sized factories in Manghopir annually process around 400,000 tonnes of marble brought to the city from the mountainous areas of Balochistan. Apart from exporting and catering to the local construction industry in resized tiles and counter slabs, these factories also provide the raw material to over 11,000 small units specialised in marble handicrafts. Some factories also collect marble waste from other units and convert it to marble crush and powder, which is used in construction and is exported too.
“Business has gone down by 50 per cent in the past few months and the main reason is power load shedding in Punjab,” Taj Ameen, a contractor who supplies marbles throughout the country, told The Express Tribune.
Previously, around 100 to 150 trucks loaded with raw marble slabs used to leave the Manghopir marble market for different cities of Punjab every day. Since the power shortage aggravated five months ago, hardly 30 trucks leave now. And with no orders coming from the power-starved province, lots and lots of unfinished marble are piling up at the factories in Manghopir – the largest marble market in the country that employs more than 25,000 workers. Over 40 per cent of the marble processing units are now only working on single shifts, and the number of labourers in each factory has dropped by half.
Sanaullah Khan, the chairman of All Pakistan Marble Mining Processing Industry and Exporters Association, corroborated Ameen’s claim. “Business at the marble market was close to Rs1 billion, but it has been badly affected by load shedding and has reduced to almost half,” he said.
The businessmen, however, have turned their attention toward exports now. Khan claimed that marble exports have increased and “will hopefully earn $15 to $20 million more than the previous year”.
The worsening law and order situation in the city has also not helped the industry’s cause. The business needs cash money and the factories are located in a mugging-prone area. Robbers frequently snatch cash and valuables from the truckers who bring stones from Balochistan. “People from outside Karachi are reluctant to come here now,” said Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.
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