NAWABSHAH: Ugly scenes were witnessed when residents of a locality posed resistance to an operation carried out by a Pakistan Railways (PR) team along with the department’s police to demolish a settlement around Talpur Phatak in Nawabshah city on Thursday.

A pregnant woman was injured during baton charge and scores of people were affected by tear-gas shelling during the police action.

More than two dozen thatched houses were bulldozed and some of them were gutted in a fire, which the protesting residents alleged was deliberately caused by the demolition squad.

Reports from the area suggested that the PR team, led by Engineer Muzammil Hussain, escorted by a contingent from the Railways police station proceeded to the Talpur Phatak locality, a couple of kilometres from the city’s main railway station, and tried to evict occupants of the houses. However, the occupants argued that it was not possible for them to vacate their houses immediately, and claimed that no prior notice as per the prescribed law had been served to them. They said they had been residing in the locality for many years.

The PR officials rejected their argument saying that all structures in this locality had been raised illegally as the land belonged to the Railways department. They insisted that the occupants must vacate the land forthwith, and started bulldozing some of the houses. While a few families rushed to their houses to take out their belongings in order to comply with the officials’ eviction order, many others held a protest demonstration raising slogans against the PR team and police.

The protesters advanced up to the nearby tracks and blocked rail traffic. In the meantime, a fire broke out in a portion of the locality which engulfed several thatched houses causing panic among the protesters and other residents of the area.

The police also baton-charged the protesters and lobbed tear gas shells to get the rail traffic restored.

An expecting mother, Ms Pariya, was injured during the police action and scores of other people were affected by the shelling. Enraged protesters reacted by pelting the police personnel with stones.

Later, the Railways police detained a man, Mr Preetam, and took him away.

Shahzado Bagri, Bhora Punjabi, Manzoor Chauhan, Bhoro Bughio and residents of the locality told reporters that the demolition operation was started without any advance notice having been served to them. They alleged that police deliberately set their thatched house on fire and subjected the area residents to baton-charge and shelling without any valid reason.

According to them, more than two dozen houses were destroyed in the demolition campaign and the fire while household goods, furniture and other valuables were gutted in the burnt out houses.

Many families were rendered shelter-less due to the sudden demolition operation, they added.

No FIR was registered till late in the evening.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2018