TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Feb 8 - 14, 2010

A hartal means for me a cut down in one-day income since I am confined to my home, and finish whole day thinking how to meet the kitchen expenses, bemoans a disgruntled daily wager who works in a factory in a suburban area. Is this fair to make suffer those who are already victims of bomb blasts by calling a shutdown of businesses in protest of acts of terrorism, he enquires. Who should be punished for taking lives of innocent people-the people themselves? The same and various such questions are boggling the minds of many nowadays especially of those who earn on daily basis and a one-day stoppage of their sources of income make them to seriously think of other ways of earning money to meet routine expenditures. The unabated rise in prices of essentials products add to their worries. One can find striking similarity in pleadings of roadways fruits and vegetable peddlers, shopkeepers, contract employees to name few when they relate fallouts of strikes on their home economics.

'We almost forgot this terrible aspect of our life during seven or eight years before this government took over,' says an auto parts retailer recalling what he calls heydays. Our lives were safe and we had no fear of lose of income on account of business shutdown, he continues scratching his memory. Now, he is uncertain about what bad is in store for him the following day, concerned more about his family whose responsibility is on his shoulder. 'I wish security for me and my family more than the ideal system of governance, be it military dictatorship or democracy,' he responds to a question. Whatever the reasons maybe, the years he referred were full of peace and security for common person. The haranguers of shutdown had gone in to state of hibernation at that. Strike calls used to be hymns of political and religious parties during yester century with the demagogues ready to bring the economic activities to standstill to build pressures on government. What kind of pressures were that was not understandable since low income group remained under pressure on account of downtime. Politicians resorted to strikes to express their dissents over unpopular measures or protests against subjugation of political rights of the people before and after partition of subcontinent. The phenomenon of strikes (hartal) is not new for this part of the world. It had been an effective tool to build pressures on British rulers before partition. The difference is of spirit and objective. Strikes of this age are protest against terrorists who are not likely to budge from what they aim to do. If they are against the government then it is also not affected as much as the common persons do.

The recent wave of terrorism around the country, which is causing death of civilians and law enforcement personnel, is affecting the economic activities in the country. The impending danger of escalation in poverty is what bothers social scientists who fear enlargement in numbers of people under the poverty line unless the mindset of self-damage is not cured. In our case, this damage is partial that largely affects poor.

Obviously, slowdown in the economy pushes many a people near the trap of poverty. The worst sufferers are daily wagers whether they are employed or running small businesses. Half of the industrial operations come to a halt during strike, says an industrialist. Certainly, labours do not reach their work places when law and order situation is bad in the city, says Razak Hashim Paracha, chairman Korangi Association of Trade & Industry, which is one of the largest industrial estates of Pakistan. To a question, he says, 60 to 70 percent of workers in the estate are daily wagers, therefore majority of labours are adversely affected by disturbed law and order situation. The industrial area has approximately two to three lacks workers. 'The present economic conditions are making preference to hire contractual workers.'

Different estimates say a one day strike cost billion of rupees to national economy. The loss of one day revenue to national exchequer accounts for billions. Karachi that is an industrial city witnesses fall of revenue when the economic activities are stopped or sluggish. The effect is multi-pronged, not only reducing speed of economic wheel but also affecting society at large. The stoppage or deceleration of activities at port due to lack of attendance of workers do not only cause revenue loss of over two billion rupees to national exchequer, daily wagers or contractual employees also lose their one day income. Alone, halt in operation or downtime for a whole day cuts down revenue contribution by members of Kati by half. Revenue of Rs270 million per day reduces to half in case of a day downtime, tells Razak to this scribe.

He says economic managers are indifferent of such losses that, according to them, are overshadowed with swamp of figures on financial year close. "They ignore our account of losses we sustain due to disturbed law and order or shutdowns, which cause hold-up in production, thereby delaying delivery of shipments." According to him, exporters have to give discounts on untimely delivery and bear other costs to compensate production slowdown.

The hooliganism that erupts during untamed law and order afflicts damages to commercial properties. A recent such act has made the cash-strapped government to cough up Rs1.5 billion to rehabilitate businesspersons affected by looting and arsons of their shops. While the government has allocated Rs3.5 billion for the compensation of losses of shops at Boulton and nearby markets, it has not disbursed the full amount, says A Q Khalil, spokesperson of Karachi affected markets relief committee. He is expecting total claims of Rs1.6 to 1.8 billion. The numbers of claims reached to 2800, which after scrutiny by the committee decreased to 2000, he tells this scribe.

Anger against the government is justified when it does not protect the lives and properties of people who mandate it to set up the system; failure of intelligence agencies to foil the bid of terrorists must be questioned. However, a system should be developed in which objective of rising against evil is achieved. Political parties should set examples of protest. There is a different style of protest in one country where enraged people set on fire toy car, bring the event into notice, and brush aside ashes after the protest. This is how solidarity with the people can be expressed truly.