The Impact of Globalisation and Regional Conflict on the Loom Units in Dibba Colony, Karachi

Due to the conditions described above and due to the fluff generated by the manufacturing process, respiratory track infections are common. Another health issue is related to the damage that is caused to the eyes. This is for two reasons. One, the karigar has to pass threads through very minute holes. Two, that the shine of the cloth they produce hurts the eyes. One of the respondents said that within six years of this work, the eyes invariably get damaged and one has to wear spectacles1.

There is general consensus that during the period of the seths, environmental conditions were much better since they provided toilet facilities and water coolers in addition to fans. There is also consensus that payments were more regular and better than what they are today. This is because the rates given to the karigar were determined through consensus by the offices of the seths in Boulton Market and were applied to all loom units. Thus, there was no “negotiation” for lowering rates in the process2.

It is claimed by the loom owners that 75 per cent of loom units in Dibba Colony have no work and are likely to shut down, some already have. Because of this karigars are seeking other jobs or are shifting to the Punjab where it is claimed businesses are doing better than in Karachi. (See Box – 2: Alternative Livelihoods) This is also having an affect on real estate prices in Dibba Colony3. This is discussed in the next section.

Box – 2: Alternative Livelihoods

Zafar lives in rented accommodation in Dibba Colony. He comes from District Jhang in the Punjab and came to Karachi at the age of 16 in the 1980s. In the 1990s he spent four years as a helper in a seth owned looms factory in the “mill area”. He worked for 12 hours a day but the times rotated: 12 hours a day for 15 days and 12 hours a night for the next 15 days. He begged the karigars and the ustads to teach him to operate the looms and repair and maintain them. However, over the last two years it has been very difficult to find work because there are not sufficient orders from the market and so the loom units do not operate regularly and many are closing down. So, Zafar started to look for an alternative livelihood. He decided to become a dealer of scrap from the loom units in Dibba Colony.

A lot of thread is left over from the production of cloth. Zafar and his partner Abdul Hakeem purchase this thread from the loom units. They also purchase the plastic cones on which yarn is supplied to the loom units. In addition, they purchase cardboard boxes and the Geo Textile sacks in which the yarn is supplied. For this business Zafar has rented a small space as a store and installed a machine for collecting the threads and making them thicker. The space he has rented is small because if it was larger, the police would certainly have asked him for “protection” money.

The collected threads are sold to rope making factories in Orangi, Korangi and Malir. Most of these factories are small units but there are also a few larger factories that do this work. Ropes are made of different sizes. Most of them are purchased by the fishing industry for making nets and for anchoring boats. They are also used for weaving the surface of charpais (coats/beds) and for other furniture items such as chairs. In addition, they are sent to Quetta (where temperatures drop below freezing point) for being placed in quilts. The main markets for finished rope products are Juria Bazar and Ranchore Lines in Karachi. In their collected and unwashed form they are used by mechanics for servicing of machines and in their washed form they are used for cleaning purposes. The washing is not done by Zafar but by the workshops who purchase collected threads from him.

The plastic cones are also sold to small workshops in Shershah where they are granulated and subsequently turned into plastic toys and utensils. Some factories also send granulated plastic to the Punjab where it is similarly used. Cardboard boxes are sent to Shershah where they are recycled into making small boxes for the shoe and bangle industry. These small boxes are supplied to various towns in Sindh for packaging purposes. The Geo Textile sacks are also sold to retailers and wholesalers in various Karachi markets. They can be purchased in bulk from Akber Road and those who purchase them in bulk sell them to retailers or to whoever needs them.

The main problem that Zafar and Abdul Hakeem face is that to get scrap from a looms unit or a factory you have to pay an advance of at least Rs 50,000 (U$ 500).  This is apart from the money which they have to pay to buy the scrap. Business would be larger and profits far greater if Zafar and Abdul Hakeem could get a loan from a bank. Informal loans are not feasible as the interest rate is too high. Zafar tried to get a loan once and the bank representative visited his premises to see if he had sufficient collateral. The loan was refused because the amount that Zafar needed was too small.

Zafar is of the opinion that even if the loom units in Dibba Colony close down, he will still be in business. This is because SITE is only five minutes away and they will always be factories there and hence scrap. He says that he deals in scrap but his business is not scrappy.

Source: Conversations of Zafar and Abdul Hakeem with Arif Hasan and Mansoor Raza, November 2013 and February 2014.

8. The Current Situation and its Repercussions on Property Values and Land-use

70 per cent of the households in Dibba Colony are owners of the properties they live in. Most of them (estimated at 65 per cent) are from the Punjab. They came and rented and worked in the loom units and some of them eventually purchased these properties. The majority of the operating loom units, on the other hand, are rented from the residents. In the “mill area”, all types of businesses (existed matches, food processing, looms) but they are either closed or are closing down. This is because of a massive increase in electricity charges for commercial enterprises during the last one and a half year. As a result, the prices of a 120 square yard plot in the mill area, has fallen from about Rs 2.5 million to Rs 1.6 million. Even then there are few buyers. Rents in the mill area have also fallen due to high electricity costs. Previously, they were Rs 13,000 to Rs 14,000 per month but have now fallen to Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000. Land prices would have been much higher if people could informally increase the number of floors on their property. But, they cannot go beyond three floors because there is a military air port nearby and planes usually fly low over this area4. These height restrictions cannot be ignored because in addition to the SBCA, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Pakistan Air Force oversee their implementation.

Real estate agents are of the opinion that the entire area will overtime become a purely residential one for the loom units will close down. The mill area can only survive if high-end industry or commercial activity can be generated that can cover energy costs. Of this for the time being there is no sign. Some of the loom units in Dibba Colony have been converted into storage for second-hand clothing, metal scrap, and plastic assorted out of solid waste. If this continues, heavy traffic will enter the lanes of Dibba Colony. Some of the mill area commercial plots have also been converted to warehousing while many of them (estimated at 50 per cent) are unoccupied though built over5.

The cottage industry designated area planned by the city government is rapidly becoming an informal residential area being encroached by political parties for their supporters. It was designed as a 452 acres (183 hectares) site but now only 172 (about 70 hectares) are left. Properties belonging to the city government adjacent to the Naval Colony area have also been encroached upon and turned into a graveyard. A member of the national assembly was shot dead and his supporters from Baldia Town buried him on this open space. The area is now a graveyard and there are 400 graves around his mausoleum6. With these developments around it, real estate agents do not see the possibility of the same increase for residential land-use in property values as in similarly located settlements in the rest of Karachi7. However, along the western boundary of Dibba Colony is the Northern Bypass through which heavy cargo traffic moves from the Port to Balochistan in the West and to the rest of Pakistan in the North. As such, Dibba Colony is an excellent location for warehousing but not in the foreseeable future because there are still other locations nearer to the city markets that can accommodate warehousing8.

  1. Interview No. 05
  2. This has been entered in most interviews: Interview No. 08 and 09
  3. Interview No. 26
  4. Interview No. 13
  5. Authors’ observations and random conversations
  6. Interview No. 15
  7. Interview No. 26
  8. Ibid


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