the lights go out...
word of mouth
Is cutting down costs the solution?
Economists have been emphasising that costs should be minimised to fight inflation. Karachiites want to know 'who else' should do the same and to what extent?
By Sabeen Jamil
"Cut down on your expenses," suggest e conomists such as Shahida Wizarat for Pakistan that has been hit hard by inflation recently.
With an inflation rate that is as high as 33 per cent, it is becoming increasingly difficult for most people to make ends meet. The frequent and sharp rise in petroleum prices (46 per cent in three months alone), skyrocketing food inflation (up to 50 per cent approximately) and the falling stock markets have resulted in frequent protests and strikes by different factions in Karachi alone.
Therefore, transporters going on strikes to voice their frustration over rising petroleum and diesel prices, angry investors in the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) turning into vandals over the falling stock market and dozens of Karachiites thronging outside utility stores for hours to get hold of a single bag of flour are some common sights meeting one's eye in Karachi these days. During such troubling times, believes Shahida Wizarat, Research Professor at the Applied Economic Research Centre (AERC) in Karachi, changing our lifestyles and reducing our expenses is the way to go.
Many Karachiites have already started to do the needful. They have started cutting down on their day-to-day expenses. "We have started skipping our day-time meals to fight inflation," said Qurban and Fazal while talking about their efforts to cut down costs. Both of them work as loaders at a warehouse in Haroonabad. Previously, they used buy lunch for Rs25 daily from a dhaba near before this year's fiscal budget was announced. Even though the new government announced a 1,500-rupee increase in the salaries of labourers – which means the basic salaries of labourers have now gone up to Rs6,000 from Rs4,500 -- Qurban and Fazal are still not satisfied. Their seth (owner) has yet to enforce this and even if he does, they say "it won't help us much," they added.
Being the primary earning members of their families, Qurban and Fazal know that they are in for a really hard time in the coming months. "That is why we're skipping lunches," they explained.
"There has been an increase in the number of people accepting charity meals this year," an owner of a small hotel in Saddar told Kolachi. This small dhabba in the commercial hub of Karachi provides nihari (mutton gravy) for free to the poor. Expenses for this free meal are borne by the rich who contribute their zakat to this dhabba. The owner explained that the new clientele of the free meals at his hotel comprises white-collared Karachiites alongside the old ones, a majority of whom are beggars and habitual drug users. "These respectable-looking men," he said, talking about the people who park their motorcycles by his dhabba and ask for a free meal "remind me of times when charity meals were believed to be the right of the poor only," he continued, adding that there were times when people would frown upon having "khairaat ka khana." The dhabba owner said that the rising cost of living has turned everyone into beggars now.
Similarly, Kaniz Fatima, a single parent of two teenagers, told Kolachi that her family has now started rationing the bread with everyone allowed to have only one piece of bread at breakfast instead of two. "Also," she added, "I now save up a lot by adding water to the milk." Fatima knows that this is not nutritious for the children but she said that "at least some of the requirements of my children are met this way." The family lives in one of the better parts of the city and has a monthly income of Rs16,000. Fatima said that these cost-cutting measures are only to make sure that she can save for her children's education. She also does not visit her friends and relatives as much as she used to. "It saves a lot in terms of travel expenses," she explained "as well as the expenses I would have to bear over tea when they would visit me in return," she added with a tinge of embarrassment.
Economist Shahida Wizarat, however, is less than optimistic about these measures being adopted by the people. "We need to reduce our expenses on government level," she explained.
While talking about inflation, Wizarat said that there are many reasons for the rising costs. It varies from the demand and supply factor where the increased demand against shortage of supply of products may result in increased prices. It also includes the monopoly of a few companies in the market where the members of the cartel collude to abuse the market power "which is evident in case of products like flour, sugar and cement," she said. Or there may even be the cost-push inflation involved where the consumption of one or more components may be increasing expenses.
"In addition to that," added Wizarat "the American quest to make bio fuel out of food items is resulting in a worldwide shortage and the attempt by the developing countries to close their deficit in terms if structural adjustments have helped increase inflation." She said that developing countries like Pakistan that are under heavy debts tend to focus on closing their deficit and on growing cash crops instead of actually catering to the people's needs, thus contributing to inflation. "There is a need for serious research to identify these factors so that they can be addressed immediately."
Wizarat said that in the absence of a proper identification of the factors causing inflation, speculation is rampant. On one hand, she said that there are researchers who point out that the inflation in Pakistan is caused by the cost-push factors, while on the other hand, we have the State Bank of Pakistan telling us that there is rising inflation because the government is borrowing a lot of money to pay off loans and subsidies over different products. "In either case," she said, without a proper identification of the reason and without a proper policy, tightening the monetary policy as a solution is neither advisable nor workable. "Rather," she continued "it adds to inflation and unemployment."
Therefore, Wizarat suggested that "first the factors behind inflation should be identified" and then a policy be made to address them. Addressing them includes adoption of simplicity by the government. By adopting austere measure, the government will be able to save enough to pay off subsidies instead of borrowing heavily from the State Bank. It also includes reducing the cost-push factor by reducing one's dependence on the identified component causing inflation. "For instance," she said, "If it is oil, we can reduce its consumption." Reducing consumption can be implemented by switching to generating energy by wind or hydro or nuclear means instead of oil. Also, to cater to the cartel factor, Wizarat suggested making and implementing "a competition policy by the government to cater to the monopoly of influential members of the cartel in the market."
"We actually need an active regulatory role by the government," Wizarat concluded adding that in this situation when people are even regarding two meals a day a luxury, if immediate actions are not taken by the government to deal with inflation "Pakistan may face food riots, famine or even anarchy in society."
By Hafsa Ahsan
A power failure at midnight on the eve of July 29 didn't really cause a furor. After all, it had just started to drizzle. "I thought it to be typical KESC behaviour," said Haris Ashraf, an IT consultant, with a shrug. "I was attending a wedding at the time and the minute it started to rain, the lights in the hall went out. Thankfully, there was a standby generator," he added.
Little did he or anyone else for that matter know that they were in for a long night. It wasn't a routine power shutdown which all Karachiites are used to during the monsoons. News reports revealed that there was a massive breakdown in the transmission system of the KESC, which led to almost 75 per cent of the city reeling without electricity for a long stretch. Almost all areas around Karachi were heavily affected.
At this point, it is important to note that when anyone mentions a power breakdown, especially in the more up-scale areas, the first response is: "So what? They probably had a generator or UPS!"
But a generator needs petrol or gas to work and a UPS is actually is as limited as it can get. A UPS needs a certain amount of time to recharge its battery and when the battery runs out, well, its back to the dark ages in the truest sense of the word. "I live in Askari IV and we were without electricity for about 10 hours," complained Sana Siddiqui, a business student. "We tried calling the KESC but nobody answered the phone. Our UPS ran out after two hours," she added.
"Our electricity went out around four in the morning and the UPS went dead after two hours. The power was restored at 7.30," said Meena Ahmed, a resident of F.B. Area.
Mahwash Ajaz, a psychology teacher at a private university, also expressed her disgust at the state of affairs. "We (in Defence Phase 2) were out of power for a cumulative 24/48 hours. The UPS kept tripping since it never got the chance to charge. And on the night of July 28, it was gone for eight hours. I called all complaint numbers but three of those numbers were busy and no one picked up on the other four," she said.
"I live in Gulshan-e-Iqbal and we were without electricity from one in the night to 8:30 a.m. in the morning. And during this time, both our generator/UPS stopped did not work for five hours," said Hira Jawed, a professional.
The downpour on Tuesday evening last week only made matters worse. While rain was a welcome relief in the suffocating weather which has been plaguing the city for the past week, it also gave the KESC a good reason to shut off electricity for an even longer time.
"We had a five-hour power failure during the rain," said Sana. "It had just started drizzling around 7.30 p.m. when the KESC disconnected the power supply," she added.
"In Gulshan-e-Iqbal we had a power failure of about four to five hours during the rains. We had generator which we had to keep on starting again and again," complained Fizza Hassan, a student
Since power breakdowns are so common in the city, what can one do to deal with everyday crisis?
"Whether this is a result of a rift between KESC's top people and the government's stand to privatise it or a genuine shortage of power, the government needs to realize that we need an effective measure to this solution," said Mahwish Ajaz. "People are suffering as much as they possibly can. Life for an average Pakistani is tougher now than it ever was. With inflation and the bleak economic scenario, we add power shortage to the mix, how in the world can we not expect Pakistanis to shoot each other on-spot, with all the frustration? The heads of the government, power management committee and now the Thar coal reserves committee needs to find effective measures to use the reserves to make life easier for the people," she elaborated.
"I don't think there is any short-term solution," said Hira. "The authorities should focus on reducing transmission losses in the distribution network. This will involve investment but the return should be worth it. Also, I feel that Independent Power Producers (IPP) should be encouraged."
Other solutions include power generation from alternative sources. It is interesting to note that very few people actually consider kunda connections as something which puts a load on the power supply and causes the system to trip routinely.
And that is where the role of the average Karachiite comes in. Yes, the KESC may be inefficient and no one enjoys prolonged breakdowns of electricity but at the end of the day, one must think about who is putting extra load on the distribution systems. It is only when average citizens are conscious of the electricity connections in their own house that they can actually demand quality service.
only in karachi
Rain, rain go away!
By Urooba Rasool
The thing with people in Karachi, and indeed most rain-starved places, is that they tend to lose touch with reality when they encounter water dripping from the sky.
"Aaaah!" they sigh happily as soon as there is any cloud cover, and if they are one of those who abhor all form of work (students), they will remain high until the sun comes out. The rest of them will stop sighing in happiness five minutes later, which is roughly when their electricity supply will flee.
Electricity flitting away is not an uncommon feature in a place like Karachi, which despite being hailed as a tough city, has a rather delicate disposition when encountering nature. Like rain, for example. I have been asked to carry out a thoughtful, balanced, scientifically researched article on how Karachi has fared in the rain this time. My repertoire of research techniques comprises staring out of windows, squelching through mud and chatting with people who do not have the benefit of thoughtful, scientific research. These people say this in disdain every year: "this is exactly the same as last year!"
I trust The People on this one. They are blessed with astonishing powers of perception. With bone-chilling precision, they will be able to discern whether the street outside their house is flooded or not, whether waves are lapping into their homes, or whether they could make it to work or school on time, or at all. (The answers to these are 'of course,' 'of course', and 'of course not'). Someone I know arrived home two hours later than usual in the pounding rain, much to the consternation of his terrified parents. He, meanwhile, had different concerns. In he dashed, responding to cries of "Are you all right?" by shrieking in horror "The rain ruined my laptop!"
Apart from the fraternity of A Certain University, for whom rain means holiday, a single day of rain is generally regarded as decidedly joyless. Half an hour later, rain blankets the city with squishy fields of mud and deep 'lakes'. It causes rickshaw drivers to hallucinate, allowing them to believe they can get you to pay double the amount they usually charge. If you're really unlucky, it introduces you to dengue fever or electrocutes you. The power supply, a most elusive thing at the best of times, flounces away. During this last speck of rain, I spent seven hours in the company of our long-time associate, The Power Cut, which was deeply inconvenient, because much as I pine to spend seven hours in such a way, it just so happens that I had other plans that day, all electricity-oriented. The irony of it all, eh?
Unfortunately – and I'm really sorry about this – despite whatever grave assurances you read in newspapers, things in Karachi aren't going to change for, oh, another trillion years or so, unless the Earth has been obliterated by an ill-placed meteor, in which case they can only improve. A careless glance through a newspaper will acquaint you with grave assurances by the powers that be, bless their souls, is that 'work is being done'. This is true. Goodness knows bits of the city are being dug up with the enthusiasm of people hunting for buried treasure. It's not 'work' per se they have trouble with. It's 'results'.
Scientific research has shown that the only things worse than rain in Karachi are Microsoft error messages and computer problems. Cable net operators are keen to prove the theory by compounding both rain and computer problems with the lazy flick of a switch that unplugs the internet.
The most obvious solution, of course, is to buy a house in Switzerland. The second most obvious solution is to install drains that work. The third, and perhaps most satisfying solution, is to send the powers that be out in the rain with their laptops. There won't be enough to electrocute them, but they may just be bonded to Microsoft error messages for life, and you really can't get much better revenge than that.
Inconsistencies in Indian visa regulations plague Karachi communities
Over the past three months, 69 people have already been arrested trying to cross the border into India, with 38 belonging to the Kacchi community.
By Shahid Shah
Daud Mandhro is a member of the Kacchi community whose family travelled to India to visit relatives. They travelled separately, but all, children included, have been detained on the charge of travelling with forged visas.
They are not alone. Over the past three months, 69 people have already been arrested trying to cross the border to India, with 38 belonging to the Kacchi community. After the partition of the sub continent in 1947, the community's members were divided between India and Pakistan. Other communities, too, have been divided. The Ismailis and Bohris live on both sides of the border. When their respective religious leaders visit each other, they acquire visas in bulk. Similarly, Hindus and Sikhs get visas in bulk so that they can visit their holy shrines in Pakistan.
According to Daud Mandhro, the Kachhi community does not enjoy any such relaxations.
"Every year, thousands of people from the community visited their families in India, but this is the first time our people have been arrested," he said.
Mandhro is not the only member of the Kachhi community who holds such a view. Ibrahim Shah, whose son Iqbal is one of the detainees, told The News that they were not treated as well as the other communities were, and that they hadn't even had a hearing yet, despite the Indian authorities' assurances that the matter was in court. "Only the dates keep changing," he said.
The problem lies with a minor amendment made in the visas. The visitors had a visa and an entry letter from the High Commission of India in Islamabad. The duration of stay in India printed on the letter did not match that on the visa. The letter was later amended.
However, the change was made by hand and the Indian authorities in Islamabad have made it clear that after July 2007, handwritten changes in visas will no longer be acceptable.
"Visa stickers and the printed visa sheets are a totally computerised process," said one spokesman at the Indian High Commission, Islamabad. He claimed that the people who were arrested had forged their visas, which is a criminal offence, and would face prosecution.
Daud Mandhro's family faces a similar problem. His younger brother Sultan, his wife Amna, and two daughters, aged 10 and four, respectively, arrived in India on March 24 from the Amritsar check post. They were detained after spending 35 days in Gujj, Kachh district of Gujrat.
Similarly, Abdullah Mandhro, 69, Daud Mandhro's maternal uncle, arrived in India on April 19. Like Iqbal, his visa and letter from the High Commission of India had conflicting dates. The duration of stay on the visa sticker had been extended from 30 days to 60 days by hand. When he found out that people were being arrested for handwritten letters, Abdulah Mandhro showed both the visa and letter to the local police, but was allowed to go on his way by the Superintendent of Police Kachh, Bhuj, Gujrat, with the original 30-day permit. In any case, Abdullah Mandhro was returning before his stay expired, when he was arrested. The reason: his visa sticker had been handwritten on.
"When other people were being arrested for that type of visa, why was he allowed to enter?" demanded Daud Mandhro. He said he has no idea why the embassy had made the changes by hand in the first place. Visitors with similar visas have made their way into Pakistan successfully.
Daud Mandhro lamented the lack of an Indian consulate in Karachi, and said it was difficult to visit the embassy in Islamabad, and that when they do meet with the provincial authorities in Islamabad, they are usually told it is a matter of the federation.
The Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi met with his Indian counterpart last month in India, and had promised to raise the matter of prisoners with visa violations. However, their joint statement made no mention of it.
To deal with the issue, a committee of retired judges, the Pak-India Judicial Committee on Prisoners, held a Consular Access Agreement held on May 21. They recommended to the authorities of both countries that women, juvenile prisoners, the disabled, the ill, and anyone involved in minor offences such as visa violation, be allowed to depart to their country of origin.
By Adeel Pathan
Poverty and the surging prices of essential commodities have forced a vast majority of the population - already living below the poverty line - to resort to desperate measures. In this regard, the case of Aisha Malik that made headlines across the country stands out. Aisha put her children on sale in a busy Hyderabad market to get the attention of the media and the society on the whole. A few months prior to this tragic event, Aisha had appealed to civil society organisations to get her husband release from a jail in Sukkur. Aisha said that her husband, Zahid Malik, had been implicated in several false cases (because he married Aisha out of love) and since he was the sole bread earner of the family, Aisha and her children suffered from extreme hardship after he was arrested.
Aisha also visited the Hyderabad Press Club on a regular basis, seeking help from the media that -- reacting to the issue - ran her story in the papers. However, as with most things in the country, her tale was forgotten soon enough and Aisha had no choice but to take matters into her own hands.
Thus, one fine day she arrived at Resham Bazaar in Hyderabad with a placard stating 'Children for sale'. The next day newspapers and news channels ran the story of this ill-fated woman whose husband is languishing just because he married Aisha out of love, without the permission and consent of her brothers.
Despite her situation, one still can't help but wonder how she had the courage to put her children up for sale. However, Aisha has an answer ready for this as well - she said that she wanted to secure her children's future and if someone from a well-off family 'bought' them, then at least her children would not be raised in poverty. "I gave birth to these children so obviously I am not happy to sell them," she said and blamed the society for her plight, pointing out that most people did not pay heed to her situation. Only the Ansar Burney Trust (ABT) came forward to help her.
Sarim Burney of the ABT arrived at the Hyderabad Press Club, taking Aisha and her children to Karachi. Also, the Trust managed to arrange a meeting for Aisha with Zahid who was released a few days later.
Even though Aisha has managed to get her husband release, she is still uncertain about her future because she feels that she and her family will continue to be harassed. The ABT has arranged for accommodation for the family for a year. However, Aisha pointed out that there are still countless people in the jails of the country because due attention is not being given to their plight. More needs to be done in this regard, she said.
word of mouth
KU through the eyes of a foodie
By Hira Najam
Anyone who has spent even a little time at the University of Karachi (KU) would vouch for the food available at the various dhabbas and its classic goodness. This is one of the main reasons why KU became an almost tolerable experience for me.
On any given day you will find hoards of people flocking together to what my friends and I very lovingly call the 'dhabbas'. They are also known by several other names but dhabba seems most appropriate to use. Where else can you get food that is scrumptious, hot, prepared in front of you and what's more, is pretty easy on the pocket? There are two huge cafeterias at KU as well - one for the male students and the other for female -- but really it is the dhabbas that do majority of the business.
I remember the first time I tried the biryani at one of the dhabbas and it is without a doubt one of the best things that the place had to offer. Three years ago, a very generous plate of biryani was for Rs15 -- so generous that three people shared it. It is not just the biryani -- you will find anything and everything for your palate.
Then there are the kabab rolls and bun kababs, samosas and springs rolls, and the famous channa chaat and pani puri. One thing is certain though - if the weather is cloudy, you will have trouble getting to most sought-after item in the university - the samosas (also known as seasonal samosas). On any given day, the samosa crowd is a force to reckon with so one can only imagine what it must be like when the weather is nice and cloudy. Students flock from departments far-away to acquire these piping hot aloo samosas that are doused with chaat masala that the samosa wala in question makes himself. Wash it down with a cold beverage of your choice and suddenly, life is good. Come rain or shine, you will see hundreds of students flocking towards the dhabbas prepared to pool money and indulge their choices.
The fact that you have ample food choices given the limited budget available to students makes the food at KU all the more appetising. Even though the hygiene is nothing much to write about, still, in the words of Sheryl Crowe, "if it makes you happy/it can't be that bad."