Sheesha cafes being plundered by raiders

LAHORE, July 17: The officials of the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) environment wing have used raids on sheesha cafes as a useful smoke screen to confiscate and misappropriate valuables from city’s eateries, sources told Dawn on Tuesday.

One such case is of a unique classical car confiscated from a sheesha café in a posh locality of the city. Sources said officials had raided and sealed the eatery a few weeks ago for offering sheesha to its customers in violation of a ban on the smoking by the CDGL. At the time of the raid, officials also confiscated unique costly huqas, decoration accessories and the classical car. They put the items in a store in the CDGL’s store at Town Hall to rot.

“Now, after a week, the car’s skeleton is left as some officials have removed its engine and other parts,” an insider told this reporter.

He said the skeleton would not be returned to the owner. He said the claimant with some people reportedly visited the CDGL headquarters asking for the car and other items but failed to find them.

DE-SEALING: Officials are not only making money through stealing items in the name of confiscation from cafes, but they also get huge money from owners for de-sealing their places. The CDGL allows the resumption of business to those operators who submit in writing that sheesha will not be used in their businesses.

But the undertaking does not work alone, said a sheesha café owner. He said officials demanded bribe from them to break the seal despite the fact they had got de-sealing orders from the authorities concerned. He said he had to pay the money to resume his work.

ACTION: The CDGL authorities have received several complaints about environment wing officials’ corruption.

Recently, a senior CDGL official surrendered the service of senior clerk Naeem Arif to the office of the district coordination officer (DCO) for conniving with the environment wing to mint money from the café owners. Sources said a woman officer had been given a go-ahead by DCO Noorul Amin Mengal to initiate an in-depth inquiry against those involved in corruption in the de-sealing and confiscating the valuables recovered from cafes.

He said the officer had also sought record from the CDGL environment department’s officials.

“She has also directed assistant commissioners of the city to accompany the environment wing’s teams in raids at sheesha cafes,” the source added.

When contacted, Environment Deputy District Officer Younus Zahid first denied the confiscation of the car. Then he contacted this reporter to tell they had seized the car from an Allama Iqbal Town street on the complaint of a few residents that the car had become a breeding place for mosquitoes.

He said he was not aware of the removal of the engine and parts of the car.

He denied that his subordinates demanded bribe from owners for de-sealing their eateries.

He said some sheesha cafes’ owners had de-sealed their cafes on their own without the permission of appellate authorities.

“When the authorities learnt about the situation, they thought the environment officials were involved in the de-sealing of cafes after taking bribes.

“Now we have removed the reservations by the authorities,” he said.

He admitted that the authorities had directed him to submit entire seal/de-seal/confiscation record of the sheesha cafes as a probe had been launched into the issue.

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