KARACHI: The city police on Wednesday ‘arrested’ a trade body leader along with several traders as business owners from the timber and iron market attempted to reopen shops in defiance of Sindh government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Atif Billu, who is the leader of a wholesale chemist organisation, the president of the All City Traders Alliance Hammad Poonawala was taken away by police as shop owners began a demonstration against the lockdown which has barred them from running their businesses.
Billu said that Poonawala was trying to have the markets reopened as the traders were under a tremendous financial crunch. He urged the government to devise a strategy under which the business community could resume operations.
Dispelling the notion that the traders were actually arrested, police said that Poonwala and four others voluntarily handed themselves over to the police after shops were shut down for violating the lockdown.
Assistant Commissioner Asma Batool said that the timber market has not been allowed to open, and clarified that no one has been arrested as of yet. She said that police and Rangers were called to disperse the group of people who had gathered to protest in the market.
SP City Sameer Noor also backed AC Batool’s statement, saying that no one has been arrested and that the traders had offered their arrest as a symbolic gesture to protest the closure of markets.
Timber market traders had opened three shops, prompting a police contingent of the Napier police station to arrive. The police demanded that they shut down their outlets and refrain from violating the lockdown restrictions, upon which the traders protested and voluntarily sat in the police vehicle, saying, “Lock us up or let us resume work.”
Some businessmen claimed that they have been allowed to resume their work, while the police refute these claims saying that no such orders were issued for these markets.
The police officers then summoned reinforcements to disperse the traders.
Meanwhile, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail called Sindh Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Mehar and instructed him to release the “arrested” traders at once. He also asked the police chief to decide on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the opening up of their businesses.
Markets divided into 13 sectors for reopening during lockdown
On Sunday, business activities in Karachi’s big markets had been divided into 13 different sectors to be opened on different days during the COVID-19 lockdown. This was decided in view of the fact that reopening of all the shops at once will be detrimental to the efforts in place to slowdown the local transmission of the coronavirus.
The plan to divide markets in Karachi into 13 different sectors is part of the recommendations submitted to the Sindh chief minister by a ministerial committee formed to devise a proper mechanism and SOPs for reopening of the markets in a gradual manner.
Sindh ministers Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, Saeed Ghani, Mukesh Kumar Chawla, and Imtiaz Shaikh are part of the ministerial committee, which held negotiations with the representatives of the small traders at the office of the Karachi Commissioner.
The SOPs proposed by the ministerial committee take into account the aspects of social distancing among the shoppers and employees of the markets in the city and also to ensure best hygienic conditions for them for their protection against the COVID-19 once the shops are reopened.
The shops will be opened on a rotational basis. All outlets associated with a particular sector of business in Karachi will open for a day in a coordinated manner.
According to Sindh Education and Labour Minister Saeed Ghani, the representatives of the small traders in the city had agreed to the recommendations of the provincial government that there should not be a full-fledged revival of the market activities.
He said the Sindh chief minister, after the evaluation and finalisation of the recommendations and SOPs proposed by the ministerial committee, would forward them to the prime minister for final approval.
Ghani said the representatives of the small traders fully realise the gravity of the situation. The minister expressed gratitude to the small traders for keeping the markets in Karachi shut for one month due to the COVID-19 emergency.