ISLAMABAD, Jan 18: For the last 10 days, Shoukat Ali, 38, a trucker from Abbottabad, had camped out in his trailer parked in the limits of Tarnol Police Station.
The reason for this was not because his trailer had broken down rather the federal police had confiscated the container on January 8 and used it to seal the Red Zone to prevent marchers from entering it.
Shoukat was not the only trailer driver who spent 10 days at the station – there were dozens of other drivers who had to stay in Tarnol because the federal police had confiscated their containers and after offloading them near Red Zone, instructed them to wait at the precinct.
“I sent my helper back to his native village, and stayed with the trailer so I could stay in touch with the police,” Shoukat recounted, and added, “I would buy food from different dhabas (roadside restaurants) in the area.”
“Thank God I have finally got my container back and now I can go to Lahore to pick a consignment,” he said.
Muhammad Hussain, another driver, complained that it was very difficult to stay in the trailer for so many days without any genuine reason.
“The trailer owner had to face a loss because we had no work for 10 days and now he will blame me for it,” he feared.
In fact, it has become a regular practice with the police to block the Red Zone, which houses the parliament, Presidency, Prime Minister’s House, Diplomatic Enclave and other important buildings, whenever a major political protest is expected in the capital.
As another trucker, Hidayat Ullah, lamented, “As soon as a protest or a march is announced, the police start to confiscate containers and ultimately the owners and staff of trailers suffer.”
“Police should purchase containers because protests and marches do not seem to be ending in the near future. The Supreme Court should also take suo motu notice and instruct police to buy containers because goods are damaged when the police shifts containers from one place to another,” he commented.
The owner of Lahore Hazara Goods Transport Company, Dil Afser Khan, told Dawn that he instructed his driver to stay in the trailer because it could be stolen anytime and that he should return as soon as he gets the container back.
“The police say that they will compensate owners but they never fulfill their promise. We are just happy that the police officials do not demand money for the release of containers,” he said.
“We have to do our business so we cannot lodge any complaint against the police but I would be happy if the police stop confiscating containers in future,” he added.
On the other hand, Station House Officer Tarnol Fazalur Rehman said that receipts regarding confiscation were issued to all container drivers and they should contact the police headquarters for the payment of compensation.
However, Dil Afser Khan said that if the police really want to pay compensation, they should pay it when they release the containers.
“The police collect receipts and give the containers. There are two off days and even after that there is no guarantee that compensation will be paid. So trailer drivers will leave because they are already facing loss because they could not do any work during last 10 days,” he said.
It is pertinent to mention that in September 2012, while protests were going on in the federal capital against blasphemous movie, the federal police had confiscated 17 private containers to block Red Zone.
Those containers could not be returned back to the rightful owners even after a fortnight and drivers alleged that they did not get any compensation in return.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Bani Amin Khan could not be contacted for his comments on the story despite repeated attempts.