MURREE: Decades old handicrafts display centre run by Punjab Small Industries (PSI) has been sealed, rendering more than 400 local women unemployed.

The PSI had taken the centre on an annual rent of Rs526,000 from Murree Cantonment Board (MCB) some 30 years ago where traditional handcrafts made by women of Murree villages were put on display.

Now the cantonment board has unilaterally increased the rent to Rs7 million, which is not possible for PSI to pay, resultantly the board sealed the display centre, sources said.

The centre would provide an opportunity to tourists to purchase traditional handicrafts.

Rural Areas Development Organisation (RADO) President Hafiz Saeed Ahemad and General Secretary Qari Raheem Abbasi said the handicrafts were a great source of income for hundreds of rural women and helped alleviate poverty in remote areas of the town.

Hafiz Saeed said that a formal application has been sent to the Punjab industries minister seeking his intervention.

In 2016, the then Punjab chief minister Mian Shehbaz Sharifgave a grant of Rs1.6 million as interest-free small loans to the women making these traditional handicrafts.

When contacted, Punjab Small Industries Deputy Director Waheed Ahemad confirmed that the cantonment board had increased the rent to Rs7 million which was not possible for the department to pay.

He said the increase was against the Rental Act and totally illegal. He said the department had obtained a stay from a local court after its negotiations with the board failed.

He said the rental law allowed 10pc raise in rent annually but the board had raised the rent by thousand times.

He said despite the matter being sub judice the board had sealed the display centre and auctioned the shop for rent which was illegal.

On the other hand, the Cantonment Executive Officer (CEO) Naveed Nawaz refuted the allegation by the Punjab Small Industries.

He said the centre was auctioned for rent in accordance with law and said since the case was in the court so he did not want to comment further.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2019