KARACHI: Cloth market traders and labourers obstructed traffic near Khaliq Dina Hall, MA Jinnah Road on Saturday night, with the owners and workers of shops in Jama Cloth Market, Allahwala Market, Lucknow Cloth Market, and the nearby markets, protesting against the alleged theft of millions of rupees worth of cloth from the markets by plainclothes personnel. A cohort of Rangers and police reached MA Jinnah Road to negotiate with the protesters. Police teams arrived from Aram Bagh, Preedy, Artillery Maidan and Eidgah Police Stations as well as from other police stations of South district.
According to the shopkeepers, armed personnel in plain clothes, claiming to be Customs officers, took away three trucks of cloth and opened fire when the shopkeepers protested. They also picked up a shopkeeper and two labourers.
Meanwhile, Aram Bagh SHO said that Customs intelligence officials raided the markets on receiving information of smuggled goods. "We weren't informed of the raid beforehand. The South SSP has directed us to take no strict action against the traders and resolve the issue through negotiations," he said, adding that the Customs officials opened fire because the traders had encircled them.
In the night
The shopkeepers claimed that the plainclothes personnel broke into their shops in the middle of the night and opened fire at the traders who arrived upon hearing of the intruders. They had come with four big trucks and left one empty truck behind, added the protesters.
"The so called officials opened fire before any action was taken. They broke the padlocks of the shops and carried out their activity for around one and a half hour. Their behaviour was very inappropriate and we are protesting against them," said Jama Alliance Markets Association President Muhammad Irshad.
"If our shops have smuggled cloth then the Customs officials present at the borders should be asked how this cloth entered the country," he added. Irshad alleged that corrupt officials are deputed at the border who permit smuggled goods to enter the country in exchange of bribes and then inform other officials of the smuggled goods.
He claimed that all the cloth in the targeted shops was brought in after paying Customs duty and maintained that the clearing agent who cleared their cloth was their witness. "We have never supported any illegal business, nor will we ever do so. The Customs officials should come during the day and take legal action against any shopkeeper who deals with smuggled cloth," said Irshad, adding that the shopkeepers were ready to face punishment if the Customs officials could prove that the seized cloth was smuggled or illegal.
Aram Bagh SHO said that he conferred with the Customs officials over the phone and conveyed the protesters' demand of releasing the detained shopkeeper and labourers. According to the SHO, an FIR has been registered against the three detainees but the Customs officials have agreed to release them on personal guarantee.
The traders and labourers ended their protest after this and the road was cleared for traffic by the police.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2019.