KARACHI: With rising unemployment haunting governments around the world amid the new coronavirus pandemic, hawkers and traders in Pakistan’s largest metropolitan city face another dilemma following the anti-encroachment efforts of city authorities.
To find out about the situation, the Urban Resource Center (URC) held a Zoom meeting entitled “Karachi Street Economy – An Overview”, where the panelists not only proposed policies, but also discussed the socio-economic impact of the anti-encroachment movement on the city.
Architect and planner Arif Hasan said the street economy was the larger informal economy, employing 72 percent of Karachi’s workforce.
He describes the various types of hawkers; those who put their merchandise directly on the street; owners of three-wheeled carts, four-wheeled carts, and kiosks; and those who are achievers, fortune tellers, beggars, etc.
The types of entrepreneurship that hawkers and traders do include selling used books, clothing and other goods that often come through the transit trade.
Hasan said traders and peddlers have the potential to generate substantial income for the government, if they are regulated and assisted through the right policies.
“After the initial bribes, local government brokers / police collected an amount of Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 / day from each hawker,” he quoted from a study conducted by URC in 2015.
The study shows that Saddar’s street vendors from only four roads paid Rs67 million / month as ‘bhatta’ (extortion) in 2015, he added.
In his presentation, Hasan revealed that traders earn Rs500 to Rs2,500 / day, after deducting the bhatta given to the local government system, paying Rs20-50 / day to the security guard, and Rs10-20 / day for sweepers.
Professor Dr Noman Ahmed, dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences at NED University, spoke about the lack of policies on the street economy.
Citing a study on Karachi’s street economy, he said, it flourished in 2018 when the Queen’s Market neighborhood was bulldozed, leaving thousands of people unemployed.
The study covered the Southern District, including the areas in and around Ratu Market, Saddar, Lee Market, Kharadar, Jodia Bazaar, etc.
He debated the causes of hawkers and street vendors, who according to him had the right to earn a living and; Therefore, legal protection is needed.
“India has a street vendor law (Street Vendors Act, 2014),” he said, adding that city governments need to play an important role in regulating the street economy through policy and design solutions.
“We can easily accommodate traders along with pedestrians, parking lots, etc.,” if the government uses the right approach and policies rather than eliminating so-called “illegal traders”, he added.
Pointing to the lack of organization among hawkers and traders, Dr Noman emphasized that they need to create a committee with city representatives to fight for their right to live in the designated place.
“They should have the right to associate,” which would also help support different entrepreneurs, including women and those with different abilities. Such a committee will also help resolve internal disputes.
The professor also advised utility companies to set up a support mechanism or a one-window operation for street vendors to allow fair sales of required services. He asked that policies be made after consultation with stakeholders.
Mansoor Raza, researcher and visiting faculty member at NED, Department of Architecture and Planning, discussed the research methodology and explained the large impact of unemployment among those affected by the anti-encroachment movement.
Quoting a towel seller, he said, “Now we take zakat! We used to be among the ones who gave it. “This research is based on walking tours, field visits, photo documentation, interviews, triangulation for fact checking, etc.
This helps analyze the short and long term impacts. “Social death occurs faster and earlier, compared to biological death,” said Raza, explaining that by making people unemployed by moving stalls, dhabas and carts, the government is increasing socio-economic problems among the elderly working class.
Panelists said that the study not only identified potential revenue, but also helped understand the relationship between domestic supply chains and international markets.
In the Empress Market area alone, the loss of collective income of hawkers and demolished shops is more than Rs1 billion per year.
“There are an estimated 150,000 hawkers alone in Karachi, and at Rs1,000 / day, their annual loss of income was Rs45 billion, which does not include the loss of income suffered by the supply chain,” a presentation document showed.
Instead of rejecting the street economy, the government should regulate it together with urban space by developing local and zoning regulations in parks and recreation areas, the panelists recommended.