Chief minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, has taken some decisions that have been welcomed by many. Hopefully such steps do not remain cosmetic measures but are the beginning of the much-promised good governance that the province so badly needs. Murad Ali Shah had the CM’s insignia plate removed from his official vehicle earlier this week. Over the weekend, there were some more welcome decisions.
The Sindh cabinet decided to impose a ban on Sheesha smoking, Gutka and Mainpuri. Briefing the cabinet, the health secretary of Sindh informed that that Sheesha smoking is equivalent to smoking 150 cigarettes in one go. About nine litres of smoke is inhaled when a person smokes Sheesha in one session. The cabinet directed Sindh police chief Allah Dino Khawaja to implement the decision of closing down Sheesha bars.
In another move, the CM, taking all cabinet members into confidence, said that he had taken a decision to fix trading timings of shops and markets from 9am to 7pm while the closing time of marriage halls will be 10pm. The cabinet appreciated the decision and a committee, comprising Industries Minister Manzoor Wassan and advisers Saeed Ghani and Maula Bux Chandio, was formed to talk to small traders, marriage hall management and others concerned. “I am keen to implement it just after Muharram 10 and everyone, including traders, businessmen and civil society, are supporting me,” Murad Ali Shah said.
Though somewhat innocuous and straightforward, all these decisions will come up against stiff resistance. For example, with the decision to remove the CM insignia plate from his car, the CM has given the indication that the same will be done for others. In Karachi, VIP culture prevails in its most prominent form. The rich and powerful adorn their cars with similar plates and employ guards who brandish weapons of all shapes and sizes to scare less prominent citizens.
If such cars are checked and such open display of weapons penalised, the city would become a safer place. Police say that many crimes are committed by such VIP vehicles as they are not checked or hindered. Our friend Naeem Sadiq has time and again shown through facts and figures how the VIP culture adversely affects the life of people in the city. So far the city administration, which is complicit in this massive abuse of funds, has taken little notice of protests by right-minded people. But that may soon change.
VIP culture is just one problem that needs to be fixed. The consumption of Gutka and Mainpuri continues to play havoc with the lives of thousands of people but the authorities look the other way. Riaz Salahuddin, an upright and honest civil servant who was once part of the province’s administration, recalls how there is a great hue and cry when Gutka and Mainpuri sellers are arrested. The plea taken is that these are poor and helpless people. Eventually, given that the police receive protection money to allow this illegal trade to continue, these sellers of death are let go. And then it’s business as usual.
Rarely has someone been arrested in Sindh for selling or manufacturing Gutka or Mainpuri. These items are widely consumed by a number of people of limited means.
One doctor told me that poor people eat Gutka to kill their appetite so they can miss lunch or dinner. But it is so addictive I am told that people cannot stop eating it during Ramazan as well. Hundreds of people turn up at hospitals every day for treatment of their mouth and chest owing to the use of Gutka.
In comparison, Sheesha is equally deadly. Some years back, the DHA launched a drive against Shisha restaurants in their area. It was a successful drive that helped close down a number of so-called restaurants. But now many of those restaurants have been moved to other parts of the city. If the government is able to close them down, hundreds of young lives will be saved.
Of course the biggest challenge will come from the change in shop and marriage hall timings. If this is achieved, there will have been a culture change. But to get there will be extremely difficult.
Traders will not budge from their timings. Every one of them will fight tooth and nail to open their shops after official timings. Let us see who wins.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2016.
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