KARACHI: Poultry farmers in Karachi are panicking as the 30-year leases for their land is set to expire by the end of this year and the government has yet to take up the issue.
There are more than 470 big poultry farms set up on government land, with 250 of them located in Gadap Town, Karachi. Former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto granted land on lease to different people for the development of the poultry industry in 1973. The chicken-and-egg boom was supported in 1981 as well when the Sindh government extended the lease period by 30 years on April 20 with promises to extend it again when it neared expiration.
These leases are set to expire by the end of 2010, when poultry farms are in danger of being kicked off their land. And it’s not as simple as just renewing the leases. For their part, officials at the land utilisation and revenue department told The Express Tribune that there is a ban on granting 30-year leases. But the poultry association accuses the land department of troubling the industry by creating unnecessary regulations.
“Many people who got land for poultry farms set up farmhouses and factories instead,” said Dr Azhar Hussain, the additional secretary at the land utilisation department. “We are investigating the matter by acquiring satellite images so that we can find out which are the genuine cases.” He said that due to the ban on 30-year lease grants, the Sindh chief minister has to approve any further extensions.
The land and revenue department has sent a summary to the chief minister and if he approves it, then the lease can be extended, added Hussain. On the other hand, the president of the poultry association, Ahmed Wasim, said that the Supreme Court passed a verdict on April 20, 2010 waiving the ban for the industry.
Earlier on, the Sindh High Court banned 30-year leases. However, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain overruled the SHC verdict last month and granted permission to poultry farmers to acquire 30-year leases. The industry has a lot at stake. “A total of Rs300 billion has been invested in this industry, out of which around Rs60 billion is invested in Sindh,” Wasim said.
If the lease is not renewed then the loss will not be just in chickens and eggs but in millions of rupees for the entire industry. The looming expiry date of the leases is not an immediate problem but one that has been troubling the industry for the past three years. Many businesses shifted to other provinces because banks had stopped giving them loans for the last three years, Wasim said.
If the lease is extended then not only will people across the province continue to eat as much chicken and egg as they want, they might be persuaded into eating even more since the prices will come down. “The extension of the lease will bring about a 30 per cent decline in the rate of chicken meat,” said Wasim. An official in the Fisheries and Livestock Department said that the department had written the land utilisation officials, asking them to renew the lease but the matter is ‘still pending.’
Around 18,000 people work as daily-wage labourers in the industry while another 170,000 people are indirectly linked to this industry. Zulfiqar Ali Shaikh, who owns a few poultry farms in Gadap Town, said that the farm owners have been visiting the land utilisation department but the officials there are hardly responsive to their pleas. “In this scenario, making a huge investment here is not possible whereas in the Punjab [the situation is quite the opposite] as friendly policies are being introduced for the poultry industry,” he said.