Worried about rising incidents of extortion, robbery and threats, the SITE Association of Industry is trying to put together a special security force, which will have legal cover to patrol the industrial estate like police, businessmen told The Express Tribune.
The move comes after failed attempts by successive governments to curb criminal activities through police and paramilitary forces, which have not helped in developing confidence in the country’s largest cluster of factories.
“The situation has become unbearable now. A lot of my time is being wasted in dealing with outside interference in business,” said Naseem Anwar, Senior Vice Chairman of SAI, speaking at his towel factory, which sits right beside a slum.
“Every time there is labour unrest, some leader of a political party calls me to inquire about what’s happening. Such intrusion leaves you frustrated.”
In police record, street crimes including roadside robberies are trifles in SITE and surrounding areas. Yet businessmen see them as a major headache. “I just received an application from a labourer seeking financial help because he was robbed the day we paid him,” Anwar said.
The association also says that the fear of being robbed has made workers reluctant to work in night shifts.
No concrete figures are available on how many businesses have moved out of SITE, which has become a target of politically-backed gangs operating from Lyari and other parts of the city.
But background interviews suggest almost all the big manufacturers have accepted paying extortion as part of a fee for doing business.
In the last few days, there have been two incidents when armed men fired shots at a factory’s gate while in another case they lobbed a hand grenade to warn a strong-minded owner.
Anwar said the association was trying to convince members to contribute funds for building the private force but so far only 25% of the members have pledged support.
“We need at least 150 guards who would be available round the clock. But they must have policing powers and this means they will be in official police uniform. Anything less than this will be useless,” he said.
Existing laws don’t allow use of private guards as police. The proposal of SAI means a special legislation needs to be approved by legislators – a particularly long and cumbersome process.
“I know there are legal complications but I don’t see any reason why this can’t happen,” Anwar stressed.
Vigilance guards of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) where street crime has shot up in recent years are facing a similar problem. With no legal cover, the guards cannot carry out snap checks and are hesitant to engage armed bandits.
Extortion and irresponsibility
As frequency of envelops carrying extortion messages wrapped over bullets increases, more and more businesses are moving back office work out of the factory premises to other areas.
Relocating a factory is out of the question. Located few kilometres away from the Karachi port and almost encircled by slums from where a constant supply of cheap labour is available, not many businessmen think of shifting.
SAI Chairman Arshad A Vohra did not agree with Anwar’s suggestion that there was a need for legal cover to use the force as police. “They can be effective just like any other guard without policing powers,” he said.
He wasn’t even hopeful about the endeavour succeeding in the near future. “Out of 800 members of the association, only 200 of them have contributed funds. They would come running to the association when they need a favour but avoid any collective responsibility.”
Instead of acting as police, the guards would assist police in patrolling and emergency response operations, he said.
Former Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) chief Jameel Yousuf said SAI’s idea to form a private army wouldn’t help change the situation. “There is no need for legislation. They could pay police to hire men and send them on deputation to SITE,” he suggested.
Having police powers mean a long process of arresting criminals, investigation and court proceedings, he said. “Private security guards can’t do all this.”
In any case, few hundred guards won’t be able to cover the entire SITE area, he said. “These businessmen have been talking about this initiative for over a year. And there has been only talk, talk and talk.”
In response to the notion that state institutions including police cannot be trusted to take effective steps against extortionists who are politically connected, Yousuf said political parties back out when police is able to apprehend the criminal with concrete evidence.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2013.
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