License to kill: $85,000 markhor trophy hunting permits suffer pandemic markdowns

The nearly threatened Kashmir markhor, a large goat species native to Kashmir and northern Pakistan, is seen at Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on February 8, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Chitral Gol National Park)
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Updated 01 November 2020

License to kill: $85,000 markhor trophy hunting permits suffer pandemic markdowns

  • Earlier this year, Gilgit-Baltistan’s hunting scheme was halted mid-season after virus outbreak
  • $18 million in permit fees have been raised, with 80 percent going to local communities

PESHAWAR: The price of a permit to hunt Pakistan’s endangered Astor markhor suffered a markdown of over $20,000 as compared to last year, as the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) wildlife department on Thursday auctioned licenses for the hunting of over 100 rare species under a trophy hunting program.
The enormous license fee to kill the rare markhor, a long-horned goat native to Pakistan and found in its snowy northern mountains, is one of the highest in the world, with 12 licenses awarded every year in the country-- four of them in GB.
In 2017, a markhor hunting license was auctioned for $100,000-- the highest in the history of trophy hunting. Earlier this year, the GB government had to ban trophy hunting mid-season, owing to the virus outbreak.
Conservationists argue the trophy hunting program, which picked up steam in 1998, prevents poaching and empowers local communities. But this year, COVID-19 has damaged the value of permits with a lower than usual turnout at Thursday’s auction.
“Last year the price of a single markhor license was between $83,000 to $85,000,” Zakir Hussain, chief conservator for forests, parks and wildlife in GB, told Arab News a day after the auction.
This year, he said, the base price of the licenses had to be reduced, with permits selling eventually for roughly $62,000.
But despite the drop in license fees, Hussain said he is grateful hunting season-- which falls between November and April-- will finally bring some financial respite to mountain villages in the wake of the pandemic, which had spelled a near end to incomes dependent on foreign tourism.
Eighty percent of the money received from the trophy hunting program goes to local communities which spend it on education, health and development projects.
The remaining 20 percent of the money is deposited in the government exchequer.
In addition to the steep price tag of the permits, trophy hunting also provides income for local communities as hunting guides and hosts — extra incentives not to poach the markhors, which has led to a rise in the population of the iconic mountain goat.
According to Hussain, more than $18 million have so far been generated from the trophy hunting scheme which includes permits to hunt blue sheep, ibex and urial among other rare species.
“The amount generated by trophy licenses is used in the development of the social sector and health... and to provide loans for people who want to start small businesses,” Irshad Karim, a member of a local villager’s association told Arab News.
The funds he said, were used to build schools, solar panels, girls’ hostels and to give scholarships among other things.
“People here wait all year round just for hunting season to begin, and for some money to start coming in as the cold winter begins,” he said.
Markhors are usually found at heights of 8,000-11,000 ft, but during the winter months descend to between 5,000- 6,000 ft, which is when hunting season kicks off.

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.