KARACHI: In a bid to recoup what it sees as lost revenue, the Sindh government has decided to regularise all ‘illegal’ jetties being operated privately along the coastal belt of the province. The move, however, has raised serious concerns among Sindh’s fishing communities, who maintain these jetties have existed for decades to facilitate them.
There are, at present, as many as 42 private jetties operating along Sindh’s coastline, according to provincial government officials. Most of them are located on the coast of Karachi in areas like Ibrahim Hyderi, Rehri, Shams Pir, Mubarak Village, Salehabad and the Baba and Bhit islands.
Sindh authorities believe that millions of rupees worth of fish caught daily is sold at these jetties bypassing the commission the government collects. As a rule, all business related to fish caught from the sea must be carried out through the Karachi Fisheries Harbour, where the government collects its 6.25 per cent commission. As a result, Sindh government officials say the jetties are inflicting a huge loss on the national exchequer and providing benefit only to certain individuals.
To put an end to this bypassing of the official commission, it was decided in a meeting presided over by the Sindh chief secretary to prepare a draft bill to regularise privately operated jetties. The bill will soon be presented before the Sindh Assembly for approval.
The decision to regularise privately operated jetties has been strongly pushed by the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS), which currently runs the official Karachi Fisheries Harbour jetty. Although the harbour’s affairs are looked after by the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA), the government body is currently renting out the jetty to FCS, which was formed in 1945 to ensure the welfare of fishing communities.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, FCS Chairperson Abdul Bar claimed that most of the privately operated jetties are owned and run by private fish factory owners. “Around 70 per cent of fish that is caught is sold through these jetties,” he insisted.
“These privately owned jetties do not have representation from any government body therefore no record is maintained about the fish that lands up there,” said Bar. “As such, we have seen that many fishing boats land their catch at these jetties to circumvent the official 6.25 per cent commission they have to pay to the government.”
The FCS chairperson also alleged that these private jetties allow fishermen to continue catching and selling fish during the months of June and July, when the government bans fishing to allow fish and shrimp to breed. “This is why we want these jetties to be registered with the government.”
However, contrary to the claims of the government and fisheries authorities, representatives of fishing communities insist that no commercial business takes place at the privately operated jetties. They maintain that the ‘traditionally set up’ facilities exist only to provide members of their communities a place to park their fishing boats. The jetties themselves, they add, are community-operated in the first place.
Fishing community leaders urged authorities to consult them before carrying out any such move and also to draw a distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘private’ jetties.
“We do not object to the regularisation of private jetties, but the term ‘illegal’ should not be used for all of them,” said Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Chairperson Syed Mohammad Ali Shah. “The government must differentiate between private and traditional jetties as most of them were set up by fisherfolk to park their boats near areas they live in.”
Shah added that provincial authorities were being ‘misguided’ on the matter as no commercial activities take place on most of these jetties. He also urged the government to improve facilities at the community-run jetties or to establish new jetties in areas where fisherfolk actually live.
Another fishing community leader, Saeed Baloch, also expressed his reservations. “The government should ensure that funds meant for fishing communities’ welfare are judiciously utilised before taking any steps against private jetties,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2019.