PESHAWAR: Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) completed the first phase of the project for restoration of affected businesses in merged districts from 2011-14 during which financial assistance of about Rs.500 million was provided to 1,600 affected traders.

Mohmand, Bajaur and South Waziristan tribal districts remained under focus during the first phase, and many traders from other tribal districts could not get assistance due to law and order issues in their areas.

SMEDA officials said the second phase of the project commenced in April and they have received over 30,000 applications from affected shopkeepers. They said they cannot provide financial assistance to more than 1,200 shopkeepers due to shortage of funds. Officials said the affected traders of Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram and North Waziristan tribal districts will get more attention in the second phase. Rs.550 million funds will be distributed for restoration of trade activities in these areas.

Some tribal traders and analysts have appreciated the role of SMEDA, while it has also come under criticism from some quarters.

Haji Rauf, leader of trade union in Parachinar, said the procedure to submit application to get SMEDA grant is very difficult. He said he spent three days in Peshawar to submit application.

Haji Rauf said, “We complained to the DG and other officials that affected traders have filled the forms in Waziristan, Bara and Bajaur and these forms are duly attested. The administration officials gave assurances, but no step was taken practically to facilitate traders. We also raised the issue with our Senator and MNA and they also just gave assurances. We spent nights in Peshawar and we used to stand in long queues the whole day for submitting forms and then we were told to come next day for our turn. After a cumbersome process of submitting forms, we are waiting for response for the last four months.”

Twenty-seven shopkeepers have received financial assistance in second phase of SMEDA project and scrutiny of other applications is in process. Affected traders get up to Rs.2.5 million according to the proportion of damages. A trader in Bara has so far received the maximum amount of Rs.800,000.

Meraj Afridi, senior leader of trade union in Bara, appreciated the efforts of SMEDA and demanded increase in the amount of grant.

Meraj Afridi said, “We are thankful to the SMEDA survey team in Bara Bazaar which is helping traders a lot. There is a condition that traders will be bound to purchase items from dealers in Lahore and Peshawar according to the amount written in the forms and then receipt of the purchased goods must be shown to SMEDA for financial assistance. Traders at present are in no position to buy items with a huge cost. Cash grant should be given to affected shopkeepers once their genuineness is established instead of involving them in difficult exercise. We were told that up to Rs.2.5 million assistance will be provided, but so far about 25 traders have received assistance ranging from Rs.200,000 to Rs.800,000.”

Sakhi Jan, social activist from North Waziristan, said restoration of economy is essential before rehabilitation of displaced persons. He said that besides SMEDA, other organizations should also come forward to help traders of merged districts.

Sakhi Jan said, “Economy of the affected areas must be strengthened first. Tribal citizens must be enabled to provide good education and healthcare facilities to their children. In a poor economy, a common man cannot educate his children. Compensation must be paid immediately to traders whose papers have been verified.”

Naila Mehsud, women’s rights activist from Waziristan, said while talking to TNN that women traders also suffered during militancy in merged districts and SMEDA should also pay attention to restoration of damaged business of women.

Naila Mehsud said, “Provision of financial grant to affected traders is a good step by SMEDA. Due to strict environment in merged districts, women cannot do business outside their homes. However, some women were doing home businesses like poultry farms and farming etc. The whole business environment was disturbed due to war. Affected businesswomen must also be compensated as they also had to support their families.”

Jalal Hasan Bangash said SMEDA has extended assistance to some affected traders, but there are many other traders who have submitted forms and fulfilled all formalities, but they haven’t received the grant so far.

He said, “Genuine cases must be verified without any hindrance so that they get some assistance. Traders are only getting Rs.200,000, Rs.300,000 or Rs.500,000 and that too with some deductions which makes the grant amount too little for traders to resurrect their businesses.”

Saddam Hussain from Bara said the government took some steps for displaced persons after their return. He said the role of SMEDA is important for rehabilitation activities.

He added, “Although, SMEDA initiated the process very late, but still many traders received grant for damages suffered during militancy by submitting applications. The process is slow, but still it is good for traders to revive their businesses.”

A tribal woman said business and agriculture sectors suffered damages during militancy in merged districts.

She said, “Fruit orchards were damaged and cash crops like wheat, maize etc. were also affected. The government should help the affected people to re-start their businesses.”

Ghani Muhammad from North Waziristan said he had tire business before military operations. He said it is encouraging development that affected traders of Bara have received financial aid, but the traders of North Waziristan haven’t received anything.

He added, “We have submitted forms with SMEDA long ago, but we haven’t received tokens or any other good news about receiving grant to resurrect our business. We have no idea how many traders submitted applications in Bara Bazaar and how many of them received aid. However, I know that over 10,000 affected traders have submitted applications with SMEDA.”

Arshidullah Khan from Dabori said businesses were badly damaged in our areas and now there are no markets or shops. He said neither SMEDA nor the government has provided any relief to the affected people. He said everything was damaged during militancy and people are facing a difficult task of restoring their houses, agricultural fields and shops. He said the government and SMEDA should help these people restart their businesses.

Abid from Dattakhel said all the genuine affected people who have filed claims for damaged buildings or shops must be compensated without delay. He said SMEDA should particularly accelerate the process of providing financial assistance to affected traders. He said durable peace in merged districts is linked to revival of the economy.