GUJRAT: Medical and business fraternities of Gujrat on Monday staged a sit-in in front of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) offices against the raids by the tax collecting agency on some private hospitals, factories and other businesses in the city some two weeks ago.
Scores of doctors, local industrialists, traders and factory workers gathered in front of the Inland Revenue commissioner’s office on the old GT road where they staged a day-long sit-in.
Carrying placards inscribed with their demands, they also chanted slogans demanding “respect for tax filers”.
The protesters who were mainly demanding immediate transfer of FBR Commissioner Zaigham Abbas, besieged the FBR offices for eight hours, not allowing the staff to leave the building.
The local administration later on held negotiations with the representatives of the protesters at the Gujrat Chamber of Commerce and Industry where Deputy Commissioner Dr Khurram Shahzad and Assistant Commissioner Afzal Hayat Tarrar listened their grievances and persuaded them to let the FBR staff leave the office.
Sources privy to the dialogue said the DC told the protest leaders that he could only forward their demands to the authorities concerned.
A police contingent remained deployed at the FBR offices for the security, whereas protesters were present there till the filing of this report as their leaders announced that until their demands were met they won’t end the sit-in.
However, the police later opened the old GT road for traffic, which remained blocked for at least four hours because of the protest.
Because of the road blockade the commuters, particularly students of some schools and colleges located in the area, had to face difficulties in returning home.
The doctors have been observing a strike in private as well as the public sector hospitals of the district since February 7 the last. However, on Monday the district administration claimed that some 1,051 outdoor patients were examined at the Trauma Centre of the Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Teaching Hospital (ABSTH) as its OPD was made partially functional.
The emergency wards were functioning in all the public sector hospitals, it was claimed.
The FBR teams had raided the private hospitals owned by the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) local president Dr Maqsood Zahid and former head Dr Zahid Zaheer, confiscating the record and computers.
The local business community that was already under pressure because of the raids by FBR, Punjab Revenue authority (PRA) and Punjab Food Authority (PFA) teams also joined hands with the protesting medical fraternity.
Initially, the PMA started a strike in at least 350 private and around 100 public sector health facilities of the district.
It is learnt that the FBR has also issued tax notices of millions of rupees to the Dr Maqsood Zahid after confiscation of the record of his private hospital located at Jail Chowk.
Sources said the FBR had yet to return the hospital record, while the computers seized at Dr Zaheer’s hospital were returned within the 24 hours of the FBR raid.
Talking to Dawn the leaders of the protesters said the businessmen and doctors were ready to pay taxes since they had already been filing tax returns. However, they objected to use of strong-arm tactics by the FBR against the tax payers through tax policing and raids without any prior notices.
On the other hand, the PMA leadership was also under pressure of the public as well as the medics because of the prolonged strike in the private sector. Some of the private hospitals and practitioners have already reopened their facilities.
PMA president told Dawn that the protesters were now waiting for the response of the FBR hierarchy after which the joint action committee would announce its future course of action.
Meanwhile, the call for a “shutter down” strike on Feb 13 by the local traders association has not got good response from the businesses.
A businessman said on the condition of anonymity that the strike call might not be very effective because many traders were of the view that they had nothing to do with the issue pertaining to the alleged tax evasion by private hospitals.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019