Thursday while (right) Rangers keep an eye on the situation.—Online
Thursday while (right) Rangers keep an eye on the situation.—Online

KARACHI: An anti-encroachment operation by the municipal administration in Gulistan-i-Jauhar turned violent on Thursday, leaving over half a dozen people injured, including officials. A police van was also “partially burnt” amid aerial firing and tear-gas shelling by the police. However, the authorities had to call off the exercise and return empty-handed, officials and witnesses said.

Trouble began when the anti-encroachment cell of the municipal administration arrived in blocks 10 and 11 of Gulistan-i-Jauhar, falling under KDA Scheme 36, with heavy machinery backed by a strong contingent of law enforcement agencies in the second half of the day. The officials said that the plan to remove different structures in the area, including houses raised illegally, was part of the renewed campaign against encroachments.

“We have already served notices to the relevant individuals and business establishments in the area more than a week ago,” said a district official citing the initial plan of the exercise. “They were told to relocate their businesses or residences and vacate the structures which would be [removed] under the directive of the apex court and a decision by the government. Unfortunately, things didn’t work [out] that way and a bunch of miscreants decided to challenge the writ of the state.”

As the administration moved in with heavy machinery — bulldozers, shovels and tractors — they came under heavy stone pelting from different sides. The heavy machinery could remove only a couple of structures before they were forced to stop the operation and back out from the affected areas.

“We were backed by the police force, but the situation was so intense that more force was called in, and it was decided to stop the operation temporarily till reinforcements [came in]. We resumed the exercise after more than an hour’s break,” said the official.

At least six protesters and officials wounded, a police van partially burnt

However, the strategy failed to work as the reinforcement of the police did not prove effective and the protesters turned more violent and even attacked the law enforcement personnel.

“As the police showed restraint, a few miscreants exploited the situation and attacked the police mobile. They tried to set it on fire and left it partially damaged. Another vehicle was damaged in stone pelting,” said a police official. “The police fired tear gas and a few shots into the air to disperse the charged crowd. No one was injured but we have identified a few miscreants behind the attack. They would be arrested soon.”

The situation forced the authorities to call off the operation before completing the job without announcing a new date for the exercise. The protesters on the other hand did not give up even after the episode came to an end and staged a sit-in on Hafeez Jalandhari Road leading from Munawwar Chowrangi to Kamran Chowrangi that led to a collapse of the traffic system on the busy road.

“We built our houses here more than two decades ago with all necessary documentation, approval of all relevant institutions and paying all government dues,” said Zakaullah, one of the protesters who owned a 200-yard house in the area marked as encroached. “Now they come up with only a weeklong notice to vacate our house because it’s illegal. Is this a kind of joke? We have been paying property tax, receiving utility bills of our legal connections and meeting all government formalities for the last around 20 years. What are they proving? Does that mean that the state played a game with us? Did they let us build our houses on the land and extracted our hard-earned money and are now calling it illegal?”

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2019