Police, officials to crack down on car washers in Sharjah

Authorities say programme is in line with aesthetic, environmental campaigns.

SHARJAH // Authorities are cracking down on illegal car washings on roads and in residential areas as part of a beautification and conservation campaign.

The practice has long been outlawed in the emirate, officials have said. The ban is among a number of similar measures against practices such as residents hanging their clothes to dry in windows, all of which are aimed at preserving the emirate’s image in the eyes of tourists.

Residents that want their cars cleaned are supposed to do it at petrol stations, retail car washes or inside the parking lots of approved malls, said Abdullah al Mulla, the Sharjah Municipality director general.

“Washing cars on roads and residential areas was outlawed in a local decree in 1989,” he said. “Last month the municipality council asked us to reinforce the rule after concerns that the city was getting untidy from roadside car washers, affecting the emirate’s image.

“We are also aiming at preserving the environment. There should be nothing going into the soil untreated.”

Even small amounts of soaps, oil and lubricants getting into ground water presented an environmental problem, Mr al Mulla said. A few malls have municipality permission to have cars washed in their parking lots and must ensure all safety measures relating to detergents and the like are followed.

The environmental issues also extend to water conservation. Sharjah has worked for almost three years to reduce consumption by using advanced technology, improving re-use and introducing prices that are at least three times those in Abu Dhabi, where some 60,000 buildings were fitted with water-saving devices last year.

The Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) has few resources to build large desalination plants, analysts have said, and is anxious to protect its remaining groundwater supplies. SEWA has ordered recycling systems be installed in 170 commercial buildings, mosques and institutions since 2009.

News of the crackdown was not music to the ears of residents, many of whom are having their cars washed in their residential parking lots. Nor was it popular with those who rely on the practice for additional income. Nadeer, 30, an Indian watchman on one of the flats in the al Nabaa area, washes several cars in the neighbourhood to supplement his salary as he struggles to provide for his two children. He said he could not even begin to understand the intentions of the ban.

“They have a lot of money and they know we struggle to survive on the meagre salaries they give us,” he said. “Now they also want to close other doors. Do they want our families to die?”

Nadeer, who asked that his surname not be printed, washes a car for Dh10 if it is a one-time job and charges Dh75 per month to his regular customers. He says he earns Dh1,000 from car washing each month. His watchman’s salary is Dh1,200.

Mohammed, another 30-year-old Indian who asked not to be identified fully, lost his job a year ago and has depended on his monthly earnings of Dh1,500 from car washings in the Rolla area to survive. He saw the ban as a warning to poorer expatriates.

“This is a polite way to tell us ‘go back to your country,’” he said. “You cannot live here without work and companies are not hiring. What can we do?”

The law stipulates a Dh250 fine for each vehicle being washed. While none of the car washers interviewed had encountered any officials or police asking them to stop their work, a police spokesman said the crackdowns were coming.

“If it has been announced as something banned or illegal, that is enough,” he said. “It’s coming and we shall not tell them when. Some have already seen us and like all raids it was by surprise.” He advised car washers to stop the practice before they were raided.

Most residents said they preferred the illegal car washers in their neighbourhoods as a cheaper alternative to going to a petrol station or a mall.

“It costs Dh45 to have your car washed at a petrol station and Dh30 in a licensed washing bay,” said Hamza, a resident of the al Nabaa area who would not give a surname. “That is more than half what I pay for my car to be washed for a full month.”

Only the licenced car washers were willing to say the ban was worthy. Rajan Kumar, who works at a washing bay in the Sharjah industrial area, said it would help to cut into the unnecessary competition from illegal workers.