KARACHI: Barring Karachi and Faisalabad where a partial strike was observed by traders and business community, markets across the country remained closed on Saturday in protest against what was described as unfriendly budget and tax measures adopted by the federal government on the demand of International Monetary Fund (IMF).
While no incident of violence was reported from across the country during the strike, All-Karachi Tajir Ittehad estimated a trade loss of Rs4 billion with a claim of 90 per cent market closure in the metropolis and a countrywide trade loss of around Rs50bn.
“The whole Pakistan business was shut up to 95 per cent, as the traders across the country showed their unity against the unjustified taxes and a very complicated taxation mechanism introduced by the FBR. Our immediate demand is that the government sit with us in presence of a highly qualified charted accountant, hear us and either prove its decision justified or withdraw them,” said All Pakistan Anjuman Tajran (APAT) president Naeem Mir.
“And if the government doesn’t reach us to resolve the issue, we will have no option finally to launch a long march on Islamabad,” he warned.
Demand withdrawal of fresh measures, threaten to march on Islamabad; partial strike observed in Faisalabad, Karachi
While similar warnings echoed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, traders and business community in Karachi and Faisalabad were divided on the issue.
Already struggling to attract customers hit by high inflation, traders demanded the government simplify tax procedure, withdraw additional taxes, end the condition of buyers’ identification through CNIC and stop harassment of traders in the name of tax collection.
Many shops displayed banners inscribed with slogans such as “IMF-dictated budget and Federal Board of Revenue’s unfriendly business policies unacceptable”.
The entire Punjab business almost came to a halt as most of the markets, shopping centres and bazaars observed a shutdown on the call of various traders’ associations and groups against the imposition of new taxes. Besides Lahore, other major cities where complete strike was observed included Multan, DG Khan, Bahawlpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Gujaranwala, Jhelum, Gujrat, Muzaffargarh, Sialkot and Sahiwal.
However, there were reports that in Faisalabad and Karachi, some major markets didn’t follow the strike call and kept doing their business as usual. Five of the total eight bazaars around Ghanta Ghar remained shut, besides the closure of textile processing units, cloth markets, Satiana Road, Jaranwala Road, iron market and Iqbal Stadium market. Some bazaars such as Bhawana Bazaar, Kutchery Bazaar and Chiniot Bazaar remained open.
In Karachi, it emerged during a random market survey that shops along M.A. Jinnah Road from Allahwala Market till Merewether Tower, Regal Market and Electronic Markets, Sindh Sarafa Jewellers Market, Paper Market at Hassan Effendi Road, Tariq Road shops, Ayesha Manzil’s furniture market and Karachi’s oldest Serena Mobile market were shut. However, Jama Cloth, Generator Market, Light House and Jodia Bazaar, Hyderi, North Nazimabad, Water Pump F.B. Area, Karimabad, Zainab Market and malls in Clifton were open.
Traders representing various trade associations, which were under one umbrella of Karachi Tajir Action Committee (KTAC) against the harsh budgetary measures, had split in groups. President of the Karachi Electronic Dealers Association (KEDA) Mohammad Irfan Rizwan, who parted ways with the KTAC, said 80pc market closure in Karachi showed that traders had totally rejected the budget 2019-20.
All-Karachi Tajir Ittehad (AKTI) chairman Atiq Mir said traders were ready to pay fresh taxes and get documented but were against the way the government intended to implement taxation measures by putting additional burden on consumers. “We will form a committee of traders to meet an FBR team next week so that taxation issue could be resolved in a friendly environment,” he added.
KTAC member Ahmed Shamsi said more than 70 per cent markets were open amid the call given by a rival group to keep businesses closed. “Most of the main markets of District Central, East and West of the city were open while some markets in South District were not open,” he said. He said negotiations with the FBR and the government representatives on various issues were under way and the traders were waiting for the implementation of promised measures.
A complete shutdown was observed in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Jacobabad, Naushahro Feroze and Larkana districts, while a partial strike was observed in Mirpurkhas district. However, the protest remained ineffective in Khairpur and some other districts.
Three-day shutdown warning
Traders and business community of Islamabad and Rawalpindi also observed a complete shutdown against the new taxation measures adopted in annual budget 2019-20.
President of Anjuman Tajran, Rawalpindi, Shahid Ghafoor Paracha said their community expressed full support with the charter of demands presented by the trade associations of the country for withdrawal of new taxes. “We will wait for government response for a few days. If the government fails to accept our demands, the traders will stage a sit-in in every city,” he warned, explaining that the traders would go for a three-day shutdown and a countrywide wheel jam in the next phase.
“Today’s shutter down is the beginning of a series of strikes in case government did not pay serious attention towards solution of our demands,” said Faiz Mohammad Faizi, President of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as the business community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, too, responded positively to the strike call against the recent tax measures.
Representatives of various political parties also visited the traders’ camps to express their solidarity with them.
Visitors to several tourist areas found no food and beverages due to the strike. Traders kept their business closed in Abbottabad, Murree, Manshera, Haripur, Nowshera, Swabi, Kohat, Battagram, Dera Ismail Khan, Karak, Timergara, Lakki Marwat, Shangla and Chitral.
In Balochistan, too, a complete shutdown was observed on the strike call given by various traders association in the country. Markets in Quetta, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Dera Murad Jamali, Chaman, Loralai, Zhob and other cities of Balochistan remained shut in protest against the new tax measures announced in the budget 2018-19.
In Quetta, even private banks remained closed. As all business activities remained suspended, traffic on the main Jinnah Road, Liaquat Bazaar, Abdul Sattar Road, Sariab Road, Double Road and Qandahri Bazaar remained thin.
A protest rally was staged by traders against the government policies. Holding banners and placards inscribed with their demands, the protesters marched on the main roads and streets of Quetta and chanted slogans against the government.
“The burden of additional taxes on general public and businessmen community will be an atrocity that will badly affect the industries and business in the country,” President of Balochistan’s Traders Association Abdul Rahim Kakar said, adding that the successful countrywide strike was a referendum against the government.
He said traders wanted to pay taxes but the procedure of collecting taxes should be modest and easy. “Instead of new taxes the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) should increase the number of tax-filers,” he said.
Heavy deployment of police and Balochistan Constabulary were seen in different places in order to avert any untoward situation.
Aamir Shafaat Khan from Karachi, Khalid Hasnain from Lahore, Aamir Yasin from Rawalpindi, Abid Abbasi from Murree, Ali Hazrat Bacha from Peshawar, Saleem Shahid from Quetta and Zahiruddin from Chitral contributed to this report.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019