KARACHI: The financial hub of the country may not remain a lucrative money-making metropolis for much longer if its business community continues to face hardships. Government taxes and surcharges pale in comparison to the extortion mafia.
Businessmen are receiving ‘bhatta parchis’ or extortion receipts from mafia groups across the city who demand money to provide them protection but threaten them with dire consequences if the demands are not met. The minimum a shopkeeper has to pay on average is around Rs25,000 - an amount which often increases depending on the size of the business and the earnings.
(Read: Extortion: Pay up or die!)
The helpless marble and hardware shopkeepers of Gulbahar and Pakistan Colony staged a protest recently against the extortion mafia by shutting down their businesses for the entire day.
Abu Essa, a sanitary goods shop owner, was targeted by the elusive mafia extortionists, and according to the shopkeepers on the other side of road, they heard a few bullets being fired followed by people shouting and running after the miscreants. There were about four assailants on two motorcycles.
One of the shopkeepers in the area said: “The extortion mafia, particularly from the Gulbahar marble market in Golimar, is earning millions. Everyone here pays protection money but there was a proper process. But what happened [on Tuesday] was terrible.
“Now it’s up to us to do business in this situation or be forced to leave.”
The All-Pakistan Tiles and Sanitary Merchants Association have already registered the case in the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (KCCI) special cell and the police.
The KCCI has set up a special cell to deal with the menace of extortion threats. Cases are referred to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU). Also involved is the National Crisis Management Cell for extortion that was specially set up and works under the Federal Investigation Agency in coordination with the SIU.
These groups are aided by the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). “Even with limited technical facilities we have successfully solved half of the cases and are working on others,” said CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy. But, he adds that unregistered SIM cards are a thorn in their side. Criminals are virtually impossible to locate when they use them.
Not all mafia members use ‘bhatta parchis’. Some send letters, empty bullet casing and in some instances even coffins with blood. To make matters worse, the businesses pay up 90% of the time and don’t go to the police to file a case. “Most of the calls are coming from the South zone while the East and West zones of Karachi are also included,” said Chinoy. The CPLC registers at least 10 cases a day and more or less 1,800 cases so far this year.
The Karachi Traders Action Committee (KTAC) along with other associates have given 48 ultimatums to the government and has written a letter to Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to take stern action against the extortionists - threatening to shut down all the 300 markets in Karachi indefinitely.
KTAC’s Siddiq Memon claims that the extortionists are earning nearly Rs50 million a day, collectively from 300 markets all over the city. Memon, while talking to The Express Tribune, said, “We are helpless because no one is doing anything for us except ourselves.
“The extortionists have made our life hell and we want to live freely but we desperately need government’s assistance.” They used to get 2,500 police constables every year after the 10th of Ramazan but this year the government has not even deployed a single constable in the markets, he lamented.
Following a protest in April, a few initiatives were taken by the authorities and the extortion cases were given to the SIU but no real progress appeared to have been made.
All Karachi Tajir Ittehad chariman Ateeq Meer told The Express Tribune: “No one is ready to do anything for us and it’s been ages since we [the business community] have been voicing our concerns. The government is doing little to alleviate our woes.”
He added, “The people who are harassing the business community are so brave that they storm into the shops, demand money and leave without any consequences. The culprits are mostly from Orangi, Katti Pahari and Lyari.”
Gulbahar, Pakistan Colony, Burns road, Saddar, Kharadar, Meethadar, Keamari, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and many other business hubs of the metropolis are still under threat and the KCCI continues to seek government assistance without much response.
KCCI president Mohammad Saeed Shafiq put it simply: “We just want a simple answer from the government: Will they protect us or not? Should we find some other way to guard ourselves?”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.
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