LAYYAH: The small, mud house of Umar Hayat in Chak 105-ML, Layyah, has been visited by hundreds of people — first jubilant relatives and now mourners — since Wednesday.
As Hayat’s grandson, now named Abdullah, was born on Wednesday, his father Mohammad Sajjad ran to a nearby sweet shop in Chak 111-TDA in the evening, and bought five kilograms of laddu to celebrate the occasion.
He had no idea that the laddu he had bought were laced with some deadly poison. Those who consumed the sweetmeat have died since, one after another, or have been fighting for life. Hayat has lost his eight sons, including Sajjad, one daughter and three grandchildren.
“We’ve buried 15 bodies in one graveyard since Thursday. May Lord forgive us,” cries Ghulam Hussain, a neighbour of Hayat.
On that fateful day, dozens others who had bought sweets from that shop — Tariq Hotel and Sweet Shop — have either died or are in hospitals of Layyah, Multan, Bhakkar and Faisalabad.
On Monday, the death toll from the mass poisoning rose to 26, which was 23 on Saturday and 14 on Friday.
The residents say that after consuming the sweet, the family members started vomiting. They were rushed to the Layyah District Headquarters Hospital. Around that time, the other victims of the mass poisoning were also brought to this hospital and other medical facilities in Fatehpur, Bhakkar and Karor. Doctors referred those in critical condition to the well-equipped Nishtar Hospital, Multan. Doctors, however, could not save 26 of the 72 people admitted to hospitals on Wednesday.
The 12 family members of Hayat who fell prey to the poison are: Sajjad, Mohammad Irfan, Ramzan, Shahbaz, Khizar Hayat, Sher Mohammad, Sikander Hayat, Mohammad Irshad, Farzana Bibi, Shista Bibi, Irum and Haseeb. The other victims include: Ghulam Sarwar, Adnan, Adil, Abdul Ghafoor, Ameer Mohammad, Gulnaz Ali, Bilal, Nizakat Ali, Ashraf Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Burhan, Abdullah, Ghulam Ghazi and Ishrat.
The district health authorities sealed the sweet shop and sent the samples of sweet for analysis to a forensic laboratory in Lahore. The authorities say they found some wrappers of herbicide at the shop. The health authorities got a case registered against the shopkeeper under the Pure Food Act’s sections 23-C, 23-E, 23-A and 23-D with Fatehpur police station.
On the report of Mohammad Iqbal, the uncle of Sajjad, police also registered a case against shop owners Tariq Mehmood and Khalid Mehmood and their 12-year-old servant Hamid under sections 322 and 337-J of the Pakistan Penal Code and arrested them.
Health department officials told Dawn that a poisonous substance namely selfonyle was found in the sweet which was very lethal. The substance is banned and cannot be sold in Pakistan. It is ironic, however, that every pesticide shop is selling it.
Dr Javed Iqbal, local medical practitioner, told Dawn that the poison had damaged victims’ brain and lungs lessening the chances of survival. He suggested that two patients be shifted to the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi to ascertain the exact damage of the substance.
As every tragedy is also an occasion for politicians, Punjab Food Minister Bilal Yaseen and Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Mehmoodur Rasheed have visited the grieving families.
The minister gave a cheque for Rs500,000 to each victim’s family and also ordered the doctors to shift the victims to the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. Following his orders, eight people were shifted to Lahore.
Mr Rasheed demanded a judicial commission to investigate the incident. “If the commission is not formed, the opposition will stage a sit-in at the Punjab Assembly building,” he warned.
The compensation and condemnation seem failing to move Hayat who often gets hysterical.
“Oh, I’m left with two widowed daughters-in-law and three orphan grandsons,” he wails, when regain senses.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2016