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DAWN - Features; July 02, 2007

July 02, 2007

Annual ban on trawler fishing

By Qurat ul ain Siddiqui

It is ironic how short-sighted or expedient decisions taken in the name of “national interest” often prove damaging not only for the individuals who have direct stakes, but even the national interest itself. This appears to be the case with the annual ban on trawler fishing imposed in June and July under the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance 1980, which makes it illegal to catch fish and shrimp along the coast of Sindh.

The logic is that these two months comprise the principal breeding season and fishing during this period would lead to depletion of the quantity of fish stocks and the downgradation of quality.

However, what it also means is that communities who earn their livelihoods through fishing are left with no means of support. Asif Younas Bhatti, a fisherman at Bhitt Island and a member of Bonafide Fishermen and the Boat Owners’ Association, calls the ban unreasonable because “fish and shrimp do not breed in open waters, which has been proved by international reports and case studies.”

He quotes the president of Strengthening of the Fisheries Administration (Stofa), Arsalan Khan Niazi, as saying that “from May to August the water currents flow from Indian waters towards Pakistan carrying abundant quantities of shrimp. The ban is unreasonable because local trawlers lose out on the catch. By mid-August, the catch flows back into Indian waters as the flow of the currents change.”

Bhatti points out that at least 10 to 12 thousand families are affected every year by the ban, none of whom have received compensation — at least, in the past 25 years — for their two-month loss of income.

It is not just the fishermen who are affected by the annual ban. The sale of fish and shrimp is also banned during June and July, and therefore the livelihoods of the labour force, vendors and businesses in the industry are adversely affected.

Mohammad Saghir, a shrimp-seller in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, calls the ban “a nuisance which renders the people involved in the industry unemployed and helpless, regardless of how short the ban is.”

It also appears that Karachi fishermen are targeted in particular since the ban is not implemented uniformly in all of Pakistan’s ports and harbours.

According to Mr Bhatti, “fishermen associated with the Balochistan port and the Ibrahim Hydery Port continue to fish with trawlers. Only fishermen associated with the Karachi Fish Harbour end up as victims.”

He says further that foreign trawlers are not subject to the ban and continue to fish during June and July, which gives them an advantage over local fishermen. Mr Bhatti is in fact of the view that foreign trawlers ought not to be allowed to fish Pakistani waters at all. In the opinion of the experts, however, the ban is not only logical but necessary — even though there seems to be little agreement over its raison d’etre.

According to Dr Itrat Zehra, director of the Centre for Excellence in Marine Biology, University of Karachi, “a seasonal ban is an international practice though the conditions of the bans vary since every area is different.” Dr Zehra supports the June-July ban in Pakistan on the grounds that “these are the breeding months and the ban was imposed after much research.”

Dr Anwar-ul-Islam, director of the research and development cell in Sindh Fisheries, also supports the ban since it is “beneficial for the fishermen in the long run since it leads to fish production later.” However, his research indicates that June and July are not the only breeding months: “breeding occurs all year round but these months are when growth takes place.” He adds that “there is no ban on marine fishing during June and July, and the inland fishing ban, which applies only to catching shrimp, should not be lifted.”

Asked about the livelihoods that are lost over the two months in question, Dr Islam suggests that the Fishermen Cooperative Society provide a monthly stipend during the ban period to the affected fishermen.

The confusion about the stated reason behind the ban, i.e. the breeding season, extends to the National Institute of Oceanography as well. The organisation’s director-general, Dr MM Rabbani, says that the main shrimp breeding period is May. In context of the June-July ban, he believes that lifting the ban would make little difference to the fishermen’s lives because the sea is generally rough during these months. He told Dawn that in a recent meeting on this issue, it was agreed that “since different species have different spawning seasons, we should therefore collect more data.”

Dr Rabbani believes that fishermen should be “educating in using the right nets during this season so that they don’t snare shrimp, since one shrimp can carry between 100,000 to 600,000 eggs.” Nevertheless, “this ban is directed towards the benefit of the fishermen themselves.”

Given the multiple and sometimes conflicting views of the experts about the ban, one cannot help but question its usefulness, particularly in view of the fact that it has a direct impact on the incomes of thousands of families in Sindh.

Divine wrath!

Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim views the thunderstorm that lashed Karachi on June 23, which tore away giant billboards, a portent of divine retribution.

Now that is interesting. If God was to send such ‘morality patrols’ to our beloved city of the Quaid, His wrath would surely visit only upon people whom He termed ‘duplicitous’ in Holy Quran. And if, for a moment, we consider that the flying hoardings was some kind of divine punishment, one must wonder why God chose to punish labourers and working class men, who were caught under the falling boards in the storm, trying to seek refuge under them far away from their homes in search of Rizq-i-Halal!

And why did God spare people who, according to His testament, are corrupt, prone to take bribes, womanise (or think about it almost every four minutes of their waking hours) and drunkards? If the Almighty ever did something like what the chief minister described, one can only imagine what or who would be left untouched in the city! And one must ask people who ‘art in power’, why should God’s wrath not visit upon those who granted permission to erect such hazardous (and according to the CM’s description objects depicting ‘obscenity and vulgarity’) in the first place?

The CM is also reported to have chastised the meteorological department, questioning its competence for not informing the people on time. This is the ultimate contradiction in terms! One can only wonder how anyone, including the meteorologists, could have anticipated such an event which, according to the chief minister, was divine punishment.

It seems a shame that instead of owning responsibility for the death and destruction, the chief minister has chosen to blame God!—Ghouse Mohiuddin

What lies behind the wall?

The small houses at the back of Shah Rasool Colony are slowly being cut down to size or demolished, as they say it, due to lawful claim by the authorities that they encroached on more land than what had been allowed to them. But according to Wasim Akhtar, a poor resident of the area, they built their houses some 12 feet away from the wall at the back of the colony, a requirement according to the lease forms he showed. The wall separates elevated land from low ground and the rich from the poor. At places it supports big openings or holes for the maids, gardeners, etc., who live there to climb up to the posh side every morning in order to reach their respective places of work.

When measuring the distance between the wall and the houses, the man’s claim falls short of the truth. The distance is only seven or eight feet. “This is after they constructed a new wall behind the old one,” explains the man.

Apparently work is underway on a new park, behind the wall, near the St Peter’s School. The residents of the colony claim that earlier there was another wall further behind this one which has been knocked off and the new one has taken some extra space from their side. “Now we are on the wrong side of the law as it seems like we have encroached on more land than we were supposed to,” say the people of the colony. It is also clear from Google Earth, that the wall on the website is very different from the one erected recently.

When asked why they didn’t seek legal advice when all this was going on, some residents said that they didn’t realise that it would lead to their houses being broken while others said that earning around Rs4,000 a month, they could not possibly afford to fight court battles. “Just last week a child fell down and broke his arm from the first-floor of one such broken house which is now without a bedroom wall. God says do not even disturb a bird’s nest after it is complete but here people are breaking down other people’s houses and for what?” asks Mussarat Bibi, an elderly resident of the colony.—Shazia Hasan

Living in the past?

Riding home one night recently with some colleagues in the company car, I overheard snippets of a conversation that fired up the old grey matter. The topic under discussion was how materialistic a society we’ve become. This, one is sure, is a conversation many of us have had, at least those who like to probe the vagaries of life now and then.

The general view was that perhaps a few decades back, people were more content with what they had and material wealth was not as important as say, peace of mind or a harmonious lifestyle. Family bonds were stronger, people shared what they had and helped one another out in times of need.

Now all this talk was really fuzzy and got me all teary-eyed about the “good old days,” but does the fact remain that the past is always rosier than the present? Perhaps that’s something a social scientist or psychologist can answer. All I can do is put in my two bits about my own experiences.

It’s true (in most cases) that the days of one’s childhood and youth are often remembered with glee, as those were carefree days when there was little to worry about, except perhaps getting an earful from your dreaded teacher for not handing in your assignment on time, for the fifth time.

Apart from that, the playground beckoned and when you’d get tired of whacking around the old football with your mates, tasty delights awaited your presence on the dinner table. This, of course, was the ideal schedule for summer, as the rest of the year you had to factor in that pesky, minor detail of school.

But boyish daydreams apart, even school seems like a merry-go-round when one thinks about the challenges of practical life that are inextricably linked with adulthood. As one grows older, responsibilities increase and it dawns upon you that life isn’t one big party after all. Shucks! And here I was thinking that the party would never end!

But getting back to the materialism bit that, I believe, is 101 per cent true. Though suffering and inequality have existed in every age (perhaps Providentially-placed as a test for both the haves and the have-nots?), it seems that the chasm between the materially rich and the poor has never been wider.

We seem to be living for more, faster, higher, bigger … the consequences be damned. Whatever happened to being thankful for what you had and striving for a better tomorrow for yourself and your brother? Ah, who has time for such idealistic codswallop? On with the rat-race!


Compiled by Syed Hassan Ali


COMMENT: Retired hurt – a familiar scenario in Pakistan cricket

By Saad Shafqat

IT is an affliction with which we are all too familiar. When the time comes for our cricketing heroes to retire from the game, they make a mash of it. The signs will all be there, but they either cannot read them or choose not to.

The circumstances are always the same. A star cricketer has had a glittering career that saw him celebrated and idolized but, let’s face it, he hasn’t done much lately. His performance has dropped, his agility has plunged to the point that he cannot dive or bend in the field. Meanwhile, new and youthful talent stands knocking at the team’s door.

Inzamam’s muddled departure from international cricket shows that he, too, doesn’t know how to properly leave the crease. Towards the end of 2006 it was widely expected that he would retire after the 2007 World Cup. After a decade and a half in the service of Pakistan, he would have received a thundering finale, a hero’s send-off worthy of his accomplishments.

Yet these days, instead of eulogizing Inzamam’s qualities, we keep bemoaning his faults. It is his own doing. The day after crashing out of the World Cup with a preliminary-round defeat against unknowns, he appeared in front of a crowd of reporters in Jamaica and announced retirement from One-day International cricket.

In doing so, he committed two grave errors. First, he shocked everyone by making the announcement the very same day that Bob Woolmer had met his tragic death. Second, by leaving himself still available for Test cricket, he satisfied no one. One really has to wonder who was advising him. After being the apple of the public’s eye, it must be a shattering experience to realize you’re over the hill and no longer wanted. But retirement is an inescapable fate that spares no one.

Around the world we see heroes accepting this inevitable anguish gracefully. They announce their plans well in advance, and the fans and media make preparations for a fitting finale.

When the hero begins his trek towards the pavilion for the last and final time, there are pats and handshakes from the opposing team, and a standing ovation around the ground. It is an emotional moment and many peoples’ eyes are moist, most of all the hero’s own.

This is how Don Bradman, in many respects the gold standard of cricket behaviour, said his goodbye. He announced his retirement in late 1947, several months ahead of the final series of his life. In his last Test innings, at the Oval on an overcast August day in 1948, he famously needed just 4 more runs to finish with a career batting average exceeding 100.

Yet, even though he got out for what has been called cricket’s most famous duck, he did not change his retirement plans. He did not retract his announcement and declined to have another chance. The average read 99.94 but Bradman had retired, and that was that.

This is how even the modern greats have continued to say farewell. Iconic figures like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, and Brian Lara (to name just a few) all made their retirement plans clear well ahead of time, before their final series or tournament. When the time came, they stuck to it with grace and dignity.

Grace and dignity are, however, not the descriptions that come to mind when you consider the retirement scenarios of Pakistani cricketers. The process is invariably confused and drawn out, emotions run high, and there are misunderstandings between players and administrators.

Everyone’s feelings get hurt. The player is sore because he is no longer wanted, administrators are upset because no one seems to listen to them, and fans struggle to relate to a once-loved figure who has become an unwelcome guest.

As with other Pakistani legends before him, Inzamam has failed to understand that the nation has moved on. We have terrific memories of him and we want to keep it that way. Inzamam’s despairing attempts at drawing out the last vestiges of his Test career are not becoming of Inzamam the batting conqueror who occupies a cherished spot in the public imagination.

The simplest explanation for this behaviour is a reluctance to leave the limelight and all that comes with it. A career in the centre of world cricket means celebrity, cash, and comforts. Naturally, none of this is easy to give up. Yet the public is a fickle friend, and the good times last only as long as you are wanted. Our cricketers fail to realize if they overstay their welcome, they vilify their own legacy.

Virtually no Pakistani hero has retired without a fuss. Hanif Mohammad announced his retirement in the middle of a home series against New Zealand in 1969, when he was aged 36, yet he complains in his autobiography that it was a decision forced upon him by Kardar, his former captain who was then chairman of selectors.

Zaheer Abbas announced his retirement in 1985, aged 38, during a home series against Sri Lanka but he declined to play the final Test, blaming the senior players for pressurizing him to step aside. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Saeed Anwar announced retirement in an atmosphere of bitterness and resentment after a dismal World Cup in 2003.

Miandad and Imran, as usual, have been a cut above the rest. They both announced retirement in petulance and haste at different points in their career, only to be begged to return by the reigning head of state, the only Pakistani cricketers to have been so honoured. But time moved on, and in the end they just stopped playing.

Gaddi mat chorna (never give up your seat) is a tongue-in-cheek axiom that we often pass on without irony. It reflects the fact that those in power and authority in our society seldom step down willingly. Unfortunately, when the inevitable happens and we are pushed out, it is at the cost of our own dignity.

Ian Chappell once said that the time to retire is when people are still asking “When will you …?” rather than “Why don’t you …?” Many of us, cricketers as well as others, would do well to appreciate the distinction.

And down came the billboards

By Aileen Qaiser

GIVEN what had happened to many billboards in Karachi when cyclone Yemyin struck, many here pray that the free-standing giant video screen billboard erected recently in the middle of a congested section of Jinnah Supermarket will be strong enough a structure to withstand the monsoon onslaught.

If it falls forwards, it could kill and injure people sitting in the open-air cafe right beneath it. If it falls backwards, it will damage the building as well as parked and moving cars on the road directly behind, endangering the lives of people. Since this billboard is electronic, there is the added danger of electrocution.

In contrast with other cities in Pakistan, Islamabad has so far been adopting a relatively controlled policy vis-a-vis billboards. Most of the outdoor advertising in the city is in the form of smaller, relatively safe and less intrusive poster billboards attached to lamp posts along major roads. Some of these, specially those lodged between two criss-crossed lamp posts along Jinnah Avenue in Blue Area, are actually beautifying.

It is hoped however that this policy vis-a-vis billboards remains unchanged in the face of multiplying wide avenues and highways in Islamabad. The recent erection of the giant video billboard in Jinnah Supermarket, without any apparent concern for the safety of shoppers and property, does not seem to bode well.

In neighbouring Rawalpindi, like most other cities in the country, billboards have grown in accretion without planning, overwhelming the public with the clutter and ruining the scenic beauty. In the effort to overshadow other billboards, billboard builders are making bigger and bigger billboards. Several of these badly built, poorly placed billboards were reported to have fallen all over the place during recent storms in Rawalpindi, destroying property and narrowly missing injuring or killing people.

Last week in the wake of what happened in Karachi, the City District Government Rawalpindi constituted a special committee to deal with the urgent removal of mega billboards in the city. But it remains to be seen whether this move alone will be able to spare Rawalpindi from the sins of the Karachi billboard industry.

Even after cyclone Yemyin demonstrated the extent of danger to public safety posed by these giant signs in Karachi — over a hundred of the city’s 17,000 billboards reportedly fell and many more bent and twisted, killing at least nine people, injuring many others and destroying hundreds of thousands of rupees of property — the response, or rather the lack of it, of the federal and provincial governments was disappointing.

For years now, nothing much has been done to stop the recurring problem of falling billboards in cities like Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. And judging by the official reaction after cyclone Yemyin, nothing much is probably going to change in the way our unregulated outdoor advertising industry has been operating.

Contrast our response with that of the Filipino government’s after Typhoon Milenyo lashed the capital Manila in September 2006, causing 40 billboards to topple, killing one motorist and injuring several other people.

Within a week after Typhoon Milenyo struck, the Filipino president had passed an order empowering the relevant authorities to prohibit and dismantle all ‘nuisance’ billboards that pose imminent danger or threat to the life, safety, health and property of citizens.

The Filipino president also ordered an inventory of all billboards and created a task force to investigate the owners of the billboards that had collapsed, those who had put them up, and the officials who had granted them permits for sanctions.

The Philippines Senate had also unanimously approved the Anti-Billboard Blight Act in November 2006, setting out new and stricter regulations regarding the erection of billboards. Among the regulations are that billboards should be set back at least 25 feet from any road or street, and that billboards should not be located within 1,000 feet of any interchange, underpass, overpass, bridge, property, historic site, school, church, hospital, government building, playground and public park.

Many cities elsewhere have detailed bylaws regulating and controlling billboards. For example, Auckland in New Zealand has a 25-page bylaw providing for the orderly use of billboards and containing a number of performance standards, criteria and rules addressing numerous concerns about billboards including danger to person or property, traffic safety issues, obstruction of road/footpath, structural issues, offensive or discriminatory content and lighting.

Apart from ensuring that there is no danger to public safety, Auckland city’s bylaw on billboards also ensures that the physical appearance of buildings are not significantly altered by the presence of billboards and that billboards are appropriate in terms of their effect on the surrounding environment.

Regulations in the bylaw also ensure that billboards attached to buildings should not individually or collectively alter significantly the dimensional outline of a building.

Free-standing billboards should also not be placed in a manner so as to dominate the appearance of any site or adjacent building by their placement or their size.

In sharp contrast to the billboard situation in Pakistan, five states in the US have legislation prohibiting billboards, viz., Alaska, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Hawaii’s fight against and triumph over the billboard industry, as told over a website, is an inspiring story.

Billboards made their appearance in Hawaii at the turn of 1900, raising protests by the Outdoor Circle, a group of women organised to preserve Hawaii’s natural beauty. Insisting that billboards were a blot on the natural landscape, Outdoor Circle appealed to the advertising agency sponsoring the billboards. When this failed, it organised a boycott of all merchants subscribing to this form of advertising and of the products so advertised. This was in 1912.

It was not until 14 years later in 1926 that the billboards came down when the advertising agency eventually gave in and the victorious women raised an amount equal to the agency’s losses, bought it out and closed up shop. In 1927, Hawaii’s legislature passed Act 195 which forbids the erection of billboards. This law remains intact today, 85 years later.

What we in Pakistan lack is a clear-cut national policy supported by an act of parliament that promotes responsible outdoor advertising with prescribed safety and aesthetics standards. If this is supplemented by comprehensive local ordinances and bylaws that protect the public from excessive and inadequately controlled proliferation of dangerous billboards, and accompanied by the political will to implement these regulations, only then can our cities dream of cleaner landscapes and brighter skylines.

Meanwhile, the industry could perhaps also be encouraged to consider resorting to other safer and less cluttering forms of outdoor advertising like having advertisements painted on public buses and taxis.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007