SHARJAH // City inspectors searching a villa in the central Maysaloon district last week for signs that too many people were living there made an unexpectedly fragrant discovery: more than 2.5 tonnes of Indian basmati rice being illegally hoarded by the owner. The unnamed man, the proprietor of a nearby grocery, allegedly planned to make a large profit by selling the rice at a significant markup during Ramadan, said municipal security officials, who are conducting a campaign to stop landlords illegally dividing their villas and renting out the spaces to multiple tenants.
The man has been charged with breaking Ministry of Economy rules on keeping basic foodstuffs and using a home for non-residential purposes and ordered to return the rice to his shop. With rice prices hitting a 25-year high earlier this year, officials are keeping close watch on reserves, particularly as demand increases in the run-up to Ramadan. Rice importers have warned that a black market could develop as supplies - at their lowest level since 1976 - wane. Hoarding is believed to be exacerbating the shortage.
Mohammed Salem al Kaabi, the municipality's head of security, said inspectors found 66 bags of rice, each weighing 40kg, in a divided section of the villa: "The total amount reached 2,640kg." In response to the worldwide rice shortage, India recently introduced a ban on exports of non-basmati strains. There are reports that top-quality Indian rice is being smuggled into the UAE, and that low-grade strains from other countries are being sold as coming from South India. Last year, the UAE imported about 750,000 tonnes of rice from countries including India, Pakistan, Thailand and Egypt.
Meanwhile, the illegally stored rice was not the villa owner's only problem. Inspectors found he had also cordoned off a separate section of the building to use "as a residence for 38 workers of some companies plus two families", said Mr Kaabi. The villa's electricity and water have been cut off until the illegal tenants have been evicted by the owner, who was also fined Dh5,000 for the offence.
The inspectors also uncovered another villa in the neighbourhood that had been turned into a small clothing factory. "Setting up illegal factories in residential areas is not only a violation of the emirate's residential laws it is also dangerous for the residents. "Look in terms of fighting fires, a residential area is very different to an industrial area," said Mr Kaabi, who added that the owner of the second villa was fined Dh10,000 and had his water and power cut.
The municipality has ordered a policy of zero tolerance towards anyone breaking zoning laws. @Email:email@example.com