KARACHI, Dec 18: The KDA pipe factory being run on a pricey piece of land near the National Stadium for more than five decades has been closed down temporarily, it emerged on Sunday.While officials said the short-term closure was part of a Karachi Metropolitan Corporation plan aimed at rightsizing and shifting the factory from the populated area to the Superhighway, there were growing fears about the fate of the factory and its costly land.

Sources told Dawn that KMC Administrator Mohammad Hussain Syed had already approved the pipe factory's short-term closure for undertaking an exercise aimed at rightsizing of the employees in the factory before its shifting from Gulshan-i-Iqbal's most-sought-after Block 17 to a 100-acre plot on the Superhighway. However, they added, the plot had not yet been purchased.

The pipe factory, which is spread over an area of about 15 acres between the National Stadium and Dalmia Cement Factory, was previously shut in 2001 before the implementation of the local government system.

It resumed operation in the mid-2001 only after former nazim Niamatullah Khan was persuaded by the then executive district officer of the city government works and services retired brigadier Zaheer Quadri that the factory could become financially viable.

Established in 1954, the pipe factory in whose vicinity the KDA Officers Housing Society existed had not only been manufacturing RCC (Re-enforced Cement Concrete) and Pre-RCC pipes of various diameters for projects undertaken by the then water wing of the defunct KDA prior to the creation of the Karachi Water Management Board which used to come under the umbrella of the KMC but also had earned millions of rupees by providing pipes of different diameters to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board for laying a huge pipelines network for commissioning Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme, commonly known as K-III and whereby the city had received additional 100 million gallons of water per day in 2006.

However, the sources said, the pipe factory whose strength of employees was reduced from 429 in March this year to around 315 employees just before its recent closure was running in losses. They explained that the factory had received orders for pipes only from the Lyari Development Authority and the employees' salaries of August and September could not be disbursed until cheques were received from the LDA which was carrying out development works in Hawkesbay.

Asked about the motive behind the factory's short-term closure, Project Manager Abdul Qadir said it was aimed at rightsizing because the factory could not be run with a huge force when it had order for pipes from just one client.

There were 429 employees (both technical and non-technical) in March, but their strength had been reduced to 315 after the retrenchment of around 100 employees and with the laying of another 25 'fake' employees, he added.

Mr Qadir, who worked as a district officer in the city government before being posted as the pipe factory's project manager about six months back, was of the opinion that the factory could be made financially viable by fetching orders of manufacturing pipes from both the public- and private-sector organisations.

He said the factory had the capacity and technology to manufacture pipes as large as of 72-inch and 84-inch diameters and the KWSB could be a potential buyer. The KWSB often required pipes to replace the obsolete ones and for the proposed K-IV projects and future schemes.

Insiders said that it seemed the shifting of the factory involved some machinations either to dispose of the land to builders at a throwaway price or to carve out plots for senior officials of the city government.

In support of their contention, they recalled that a similar exercise had been undertaken in the defunct KDA when people at the helm of affairs had allotted land to the KDA Officers Housing Society by carving out more than 100 plots on a piece of land which was originally part of the CoD Filter Plant. It was a coincidence that the pipe factory was also located adjacent to the KDA Officers' Society in Gulshan-i-Iqbal's Block 17, they added.

KWSB proposal

Sources in the local government department told Dawn that KWSB Managing Director Misbahuddin Farid had recently moved a summary to the Sindh local government minister requesting him that the pipe factory and its land be handed over to the KWSB on the plea that since it was part of the defunct KDA water wing, no one else but the water utility should get it back for meeting the requirement for the city's existing pipeline network but also for the city's vital K-IV Project.

According to the sources, the KWSB chief had moved an ambitious plan for making the pipe factory economically viable and his proposal of converting the sick factory into a profit-making organisation includes manufacturing of manhole covers and drinking water bottles besides pipes required for the K-IV project as well as for replacing the outlived and obsolete pipes of the utility's existing water and sewerage network.

The sources said Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad had reportedly agreed in principle to the KWSB proposal.

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