Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
Home »Editorials » Another setback to exports and trade
The transporters' strike in Karachi has entered the eighth day paralysing the movement of goods from the port to the city and upcountry areas. The reason: the Sindh High Court (SHC) imposed a complete ban on the movement of heavy vehicles on a specific route, as it passed through a residential area, which was considerably shorter than the alternate route proposed by the deputy inspector general.

The striking transporters insist that they were adhering to the 2007 judgement by the then Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Rana Bhagwandas who had allowed heavy vehicles to move within the city from 11 pm to 6 am. They further contend that the longer route also passes through some residential areas. The consequence of this strike have been dire for the economy of the city as well as the country given that the strike accounts for: (i) exporters facing an expiry of their letters of credit that may eventually cost them their orders; (ii) depleting stocks of imported food items, including pulses and grams which would lead to shortages, particularly serious with Ramazan less than two weeks away, and raise prices eventually unless the strike ends; and (iii) delay in transport of imports used as inputs by value-adding industry that would have serious consequences for country's growth rate.

Other major cities around the world have dealt with their heavy vehicle traffic issues by either banning certain routes for heavy traffic (and thereby ensure safety of pedestrians/cyclists as in London and/or ensure that residential areas remain undisturbed) or, as per the Bhagwandas judgement, stipulating the hours during which heavy traffic may use city roads. There is unfortunately no third option other than to of course build a very expensive network of overpasses and underpasses to ensure that residential and congested city areas are bypassed, however, clearly this is a long-term solution that would require considerable disbursements from the provincial government. It may also be argued that since ships routinely dock at Karachi port carrying goods for upcountry areas - consumer goods as well as inputs for manufacturing industry - the federal government should share the costs of such a venture.

The Sindh government is not involved in the litigation so the question is whether the transporters were attempting to pressurise the court with their strike action or the Sindh government to become a party to the dispute and come out with a solution to the problem. In this context, repeated attempts by the media to contact Sindh Transport Minister Syed Nasir Shah have proved unsuccessful which is now being cited as yet another example of poor governance in general and of the PPP government in Sindh in particular.

It is extremely disturbing that in this country going on strike that would inconvenience the general public which, in turn, would compel some form of action by the relevant government ministry/department has become the norm. One sector or sub-sector does not like a tax hike and they go on a protest strike bringing several localities/areas to a standstill; another sub-sector wants a pay hike, for example, young doctors and nurses, they are simply not heard until they go on strike. Yet another sub-sector, for example, the Pakistan Steel Mills' retired and currently employed staff does not get pensions/salaries for months as the Mills have been non-operational for over a year and they go on strike to compel the federal government to release their salaries. Unfortunately, our governments, federal and provincial, do not take appropriate measures prior to an action and additionally clearly do not have either the wherewithal to forcibly end the strike or the capacity to negotiate a long-term agreement with the strikers. There is clearly a need to negotiate with workers of public sector entities before they go on strike, including engaging in resolving the eight-day-old strike by the transporters in Karachi.

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