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

9. Conclusions / Further Studies

This study on power loom units and their relationship to the Dibba Colony residents has opened up a whole new field for academic research and investigative journalism. Some of the subjects that have surfaced are given below.

  1. The politics of the age and/or the regime have a major influence on industries and businesses and as such on people’s livelihoods and property values. Pakistan’s flirtation with socialism in the 1970’s led to the nationalisation of large industrial units and also to the development of active trade unionism. To overcome the economic repercussions of these factors and the fear of being nationalised, many large industrial units were broken up into smaller units by the seths and relocated from formal industrial areas to low income residential settlements or their officially designated commercial areas. Although, cottage industry estates were made available by the government, they remained unoccupied for the most part. This is because working from low income settlements and through informal arrangements of production the seths were able to lower production costs, make the development of trade unionism difficult and overcome their fear of being nationalised.
    This study has only looked at the loom units and Dibba Colony. During this research it has been discovered that the same processes have been followed in other industries and settlements as well. Some of these areas have been identified.
  2. Liberalisation in the 1990’s made the import of cheaper Chinese and Indian silk possible. This had an adverse affect on the silk industry in Pakistan. The main reason for the adverse affect was higher labour and energy costs in Pakistan and a more liberal investment regime in other countries. Liberalisation has made it possible for Pakistani industries to relocate to other countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In addition, retailers and wholesalers make greater profits ad face less hassle in dealing with imported silk textiles rather than acquiring them from the local industry.
  3. Regional conflicts have closed borders making legal over land trade difficult and at times erratic. This has discouraged production, make tourism almost impossible (tourists were a major source of purchasing Pakistani manufactured items such as silk and leather) and has led to the development of illegal trade which has adversely affected the functioning of the political and bureaucratic establishments in the country. There are no serious studies on this subject.
  4. The conflict in Sindh between the Sindhi speakers, Urdu speakers and Pushto speakers has led to a battle for turf between these three ethnicities. Their disagreement over the nature of local government in Sindh in general and for Karachi in particular, has led to a breakdown of governance and to violence and strikes. In addition, Islamic militancy also resorts to targeted killings of its opponents and often to “days of protest when the city closes down”. In these conflicts, the protagonists have sought the support of “criminal elements” through whom they extort protection money from traders and businesses. This leads the traders and businesses to protest through strikes and demonstrations. As a result, markets are often closed and even when they are open, business is slow. The retail markets in the residential areas of the city are not directly affected by these conditions but because of them, prices have gone up.
  5. When cost of production due to excessive energy charges, liberalisation and regional and provincial conflicts were increased to a level that producing silk was no longer profitable for the seths, they sold their looms to their workers and walked out of the production business. Their workers (the new owners) shifted the businesses from the commercial plots of the “mill areas” to their residential areas in Dibba Colony. There were three reasons for this. One, energy charges for residential areas (especially for low income areas) are much lower than for commercial areas. Two, the rents for the premises in Dibba Colony were much lower than for the commercial premises in the “mill area”. And three, they saved on property tax since their premises were on non-commercial 80 square yard plots which are exempted from property tax and the charges of the Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) are also much lower.
    Energy outages have reached a level that has reduced production by 30 per cent. The new owners have discovered that, unlike the formally designated industrial areas, they do not qualify for continuous electricity supply. For this reason they would like to relocate to formally designated areas but do not have the economic capacity to do so.
  6. The study has shown that there is general consensus that labour was better and more regularly paid under the seths than under the present system. The class war was better managed because of the better financial and managerial capacity of the seths rather than of the present owners who belong to the same class as the karigars and their helpers. These new owners are, in the words of a respondent, “class traitors”. This is an interesting subject for further research.
  7. The study also tells us a lot about migration and its relationship to location and history. The Urdu speakers who were the original allotees of the Dibba Colony plots could not use the advantage it offered of being next to an industrial area. This was because they were not skilled labour that industry needed but were white-collar workers for the most part. So they shifted to areas where people similar to them and of their ethnicity were already residing.
    Skilled Punjabis have replaced the Urdu speakers. This is because the Punjab has a long tradition of textile related activities and industry. A system of training through apprenticeship has evolved over there since the 1920’s. With increasing demand for karigars, the number of trained people in the Punjab has increased. A facility that existed has expanded. Training of karigars in other ethnicities has not taken off and has not been initiated. It is thus understandable that the loom units of the seths were purchased by the more enterprising of their labour force who were almost all from the Punjab. With recession in Dibba Colony, the Punjabi karigars are either looking for new livelihoods, where they can make use of their technical and related managerial skills, or are migrating back to the Punjab where conditions are better.
  8. Industry in residential and commercial areas is not permitted by byelaws and zoning regulations. However, government building control and planning agencies permit these violations. This is for three reasons. One, this is on such a big scale that challenging it would be very difficult and disruptive. Two, it integrates work and residential areas and reduces costs and travel time for the workers. And three, it helps in reducing traffic within the city. They also feel that the existing regulations are irrational and need to be changed permitting mixed land-use.The scale of the spatial spread of industry in low income residential areas, its relationship with government agencies and formal sector industry and businesses, and its contribution to Karachi’s economy, remains undocumented even by the most recent Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020. As such, modifications to existing byelaws and zoning regulations cannot be rationally made.
  9. Byelaws and zoning regulations are routinely violated in Karachi. Buildings where only two floors are allowed, in formal and informal settlements, increase to five or even eight floors. The SBCA is paid informally by the builders to turns a blind eye to this. This cannot happen in Dibba Colony because it is next to a military airport and the Pakistan Air Force and the CAA see to it that buildings remain within three floors so as to make the planes safe.Since the Dibba Colony plots cannot go beyond three floors, their price in the open market is less than in other similar low income settlements. This will determine its future land-use, which because of its proximity to the Northern Bypass, could be of warehouses for port and cargo related activities.
  10. A number of informal industrial activities and their location have been identified as a result of this study. These areas include Shershah, Akber Road, Korangi, Malir, Juria Bazaar, Boulton Market, Ranchore Lines, Nagin Chowrangi. Activities identified are cardboard and plastic recycling, second-hand clothing (storage and sale), rope making and quilt making and sale, scrap collection and sale, and retailing of these and other recycled material. Boulton Market is of special importance since this is where the wholesale markets surrounded by retail markets are located. How does this huge enterprise function consisting of brokers, importers, exporters, market operators, havala and hundi (two local and informal processes for currency transfers) dealers, transporters and labour.

The respondents who have been interviewed have offered no solution to the crisis faced by the loom units in Dibba Colony. Even if the energy crisis is solved they will not be able to make profit out of their business. This is because the real problem is that they are not getting orders for production. They are of the opinion that they can only function if border controls with Central Asia and Iran are withdrawn, there is peace with India (which is not in their hands) and if the government stops the importation of Indian and Chinese silk which under WTO is not possible. As one respondent put it “We are the victims of decisions in which we were not consulted and even if we had been, it would still not been in our hands”.


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