LARKANA/ KARACHI: Haji Khan, a farmer in Larkana District, is strapped for cash. Money is very tight despite the fact that he recently sold off his rice crop. He was barely able to set aside a few bags of rice for his personal use as his as almost his entire crop for this season was spent on paying back the money he had borrowed from a loan shark.
Haji Khan had already been paying a 25 per cent mark-up on the principle amount he borrows every year to fulfil his agricultural needs such as seeds, fertiliser, and medicines. But he managed to save enough to cover his domestic expenses. This year, however, he has no savings to show because he had to pay Rs70,000 for a motorcycle. The local loan shark had arranged the bike for him. Although it only cost Rs45,000 the money was lent on the condition that Haji Khan would pay Rs70,000 once his crop was harvested.
Haji Khan is not the only person in the area who is being exploited by Larkana’s loan sharks. Many local farmers and poor people have fallen victim to usury. Many of them get exploited due to poverty as they are unable to meet any extraordinary or unforeseen expenses with their limited savings. Another common factor is indulgence in certain vices, especially gambling. In both cases, the worst sufferers are the borrowers’ families, who face social and financial problems in society.
A local businessman admitted that he lost his whole property due to gambling debts and the exorbitant interest payments he had to make to loan sharks to cover these debts. Since he lost his property, his children have had to quit school, and his family has faced the worst of times, both financially and socially.
The worst part is that while the other provinces have had such laws in place for years, Sindh has no equivalent law for the elimination of usury, although the government has begun working on legislation in this connection. Interestingly, a local police officer has committed himself to fighting loan sharks by sensitising and mobilising government officials and civil society against usury. Soon after his posting as SSP Larkana around four months back, Masood Bangash launched a campaign against usury in the area. He also persuaded the government to work on legislation to combat the menace
Under his directives, local police displayed pamphlets throughout the district – a PPP stronghold – and invited citizens to come forward and lodge complaints against those involved in the business. However, nobody actually came forward to lodge a formal complaint during the whole campaign, and only a few people contacted the SSP in person to complain about some local loan sharks. The failure of the campaign was, eventually, due to what “lack of any law” to punish the crime.
Talking to Daily Express, SSP Bangash admitted that his campaign against usury was not as successful as he had wanted, but he still hoped that such initiatives would bear positive results after the enactment of the required laws.
When asked about chances of implementation of the law, he said that although it will take time to pass, once a law is enacted, implementation will be quick everywhere.
He said this was not his first campaign against loan sharks. He had also launched such campaigns during his postings in other districts of the province including Shikarpur and Ghotki. “It is a curse of society. It must be eliminated,” he remarked.
Bangash also spoke of how he convinced Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and other relevant authorities to work on a law against usury.
He met the chief minister on December 27 2018 – former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary – in Larkana and discussed the issue in detail.
A spokesman for Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Law Murtaza Wahab told Express that legal experts are busy drafting the law. It will formally be brought before Sindh Assembly for approval after it is finalised.
Local PPP office-bearer Shakeel Memon supported SSP Bangash’s drive against usury but said it will take time for results. Talking to the Express, he said that people borrow from loan sharks for many reasons and appealed to the public to only avail above-board and legal loans from banks.
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