KARACHI: Sanitary conditions at the Karachi fish harbour deteriorated further on Saturday amid continued suspension of power to the facility on the second consecutive day on account of non-payment of bills by the Karachi Fish Harbour Authority (KFHA).
Speaking to Dawn, workers at the harbour said they faced great difficulty in carrying out routine tasks especially in early morning hours — the time for the first fish auction — during which they had to use the lights of their mobile phones to work. “There was pitch darkness, making our task of grading the fish very difficult,” said Akbar, adding that electricity outage also delayed cleanliness work at the harbour as water couldn’t be pumped out from the tank.
Visibly worried over the situation, Mohammad Suleman, a fish crate supplier at the harbour, said workers somehow managed their tasks in the cool morning hours but the quality of fish would definitely be affected later during the day.
“It’s too warm inside the auction hall since it has a metal ceiling and we can’t use fans. There is no water with which I can wash my plastic crates that have been lying uncleaned since yesterday,” he complained.
The harbour, earning millions of dollars in fish exports, seemed to have no major power supply backup system as workers complained that a generator used belatedly by the authorities to pump out water for cleaning the premises was not sufficient.
Fish were seen being graded in spaces covered with blackened water as sweepers mopped the jetty’s floor littered with discarded plastic bags. In the absence of any system for waste collection, sweepers preferred to throw refuse into the standing water of the harbour.
“Electricity outage has been delaying every task at the harbour for the past two days. Some vessels are still waiting for their catch to be offloaded whereas the staff has just started cleaning the market and the jetty, though this job should have been done yesterday,” said Zar Khan who heads a trawlers’ and fishermen’s association.
In response to another question, he explained that the dark water spread over the jetty’s floor was actually the ink released by cuttlefish (and other species of the same family) when caught, in an attempt to save itself from potential predators.
“You can’t entirely blame the authorities, though they are the ones responsible for keeping the harbour clean. I believe that if the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) spends even half the amount it earns from fishermen, the harbour can be turned into the world’s best.
“Presently, conditions are so bad here that I believe that the Edhi welfare service would manage it far better than keeping it with the FCS,” he remarked.
Zafar Iqbal Kundi, who heads the Pakistan Fisheries Exporters’ Association, blamed the government for the crisis and said it should privatise the FCS where prolonged corruption had brought affairs to this point.
“Though electricity to our processing units has not been disconnected, we will be affected by the situation at the harbour as exporters depend on the catch brought at the harbour,” he explained.
Sources said the financial crisis at the KFHA had much to do with the way the government had been running the show at the FCS, currently in complete disarray and awaiting new elections.
Though the KFHA owned the harbour land, it depended mainly on rent and other charges the FCS was supposed to pay to the KFHA under an agreement to run its financial affairs. The FCS had not paid the KFHA a single rupee since 2010 and currently owed Rs70m in ground rent, Rs30m in electricity charges, Rs55m in repair and maintenance expenditures, and Rs80m for using fresh water.
Officials at the KFHA said several reminders had been sent to the FCS, but they didn’t receive any reply. The FCS had collected a huge commission on the fish catch but spent nothing on harbour development or fishermen’s welfare, they added.
“We won’t be able to pay salaries to our staff this month if the government doesn’t release a grant,” said a KFHA official, adding that pensions had also been held up amid the crisis.
While FCS elections are due later this month, a question mark persists over its future, as only a few of the key FCS officials picked up by the Rangers in 2015 over corruption allegations had been released. Currently, FCS accounts are sealed and their staff receives salaries through a court order.
When contacted, K-Electric’s communications director Sadia Dada said power supply to the KFHA was disconnected only after the latter had failed to make any commitment about the payment of its pending dues of Rs6.9m.
“We had served the KFHA with several notices before resorting to this step. A notice was sent last week, too, but there was no response from the authorities concerned,” she said, adding that the supply would be restored only if commitment was made on the pending dues.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2017