MULTAN: A septuagenarian woman waiting for cash handouts died outside a school in Multan, while poor arrangements at Ehsaas programme disbursement centres in Faisalabad and Dera Ghazi Khan left several women injured on Friday.
While people present outside M.A. Jinnah School in Qasimpur Colony said Naziran Bibi, 70, lost her life due to chaos caused by a huge influx of people, the administration and police claimed that the woman died of cardiac arrest and poor health condition.
According to an eyewitness, 20 other women and children were injured because of the jostling outside the school and provided treatment on the spot by Rescue 1122. She said that more than 5,000 women and children gathered outside the centre before 9am and when the gate was opened they rushed to the counters which led to chaos.
Rs500,000 meant for disbursement under Ehsaas programme stolen
Rescue 1122 officials said 20 injured were provided medical treatment at the spot.
The body of Naziran was shifted to Nishtar Hospital. Provincial minister Zubair Dreshak along with civil administration and police officials visited the site.
The minister said the government had launched the Ehsaas programme with good intentions to help the poor and arrangements such as shelter, water and waiting places had been ensured at every disbursement centre. “There is no reality that the woman died because of jostling. In fact, she arrived at the centre at 7am and died of heart attack,” he said, adding that the woman was immediately shifted to Nishtar Hospital but could not survive.
Commissioner Shanul Haq said Naziran died because of weakness outside the centre at 7am, while the centre opened at 9am. He said post-mortem would be conducted to ascertain the facts, while social distancing at centres would be ensured. He said the fund distribution would continue for 15 days and citizens should first contact their nearby centers instead of wasting their time outside the centres.
In Faisalabad, police roughed up women to maintain order at the Ghulam Muhammadabad disbursement centre.
A police officer, however, said no woman was roughed up as the field staff tried to ensure queues in the park to avoid a chaos-like situation. He said they were well aware of the financial conditions of the people due to the lockdown. It became a habit of the people to share even a minor issue on social media and the mainstream media highlighted such issues only for rating, he added.
Dozens of women turned up at the centre to get financial assistance of Rs12,000 each. The cash distribution began on Thursday and 67,629 deserving people would get financial assistance in Faisalabad. On Thursday, hundreds of women waited for hours for their turn and then left the centres when the staff asked them to come on Friday.
On Friday, the applicants faced shortage of water and chairs and most of them, including elderly women, had to sit on the ground for hours. Policemen carrying megaphones kept asking women to remain in line. When some of them tried to breach lines, policewomen pushed a few applicants. Two women were also pushed to the ground from a three-foot high platform of the park.
A woman, who claimed she was roughed up by policewomen, accused the administration of mismanagement.
No social distancing was maintained due to rush and most of women waited for their turn at Rehmat Park in front of New Model School.
Meanwhile, Madina Town police registered a case against thieves who stole Rs500,000 meant for distribution among the poor under the Ehsaas programme.
Sajid Hussain, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf coordinator for NA-109, said he was carrying the amount to a cash disbursement centre set up at Government Boys High School, Chak 214-RB, Dhudiwala, some pickpockets had stolen the cash.
In Dera Ghazi Khan, two women fell unconscious and suffered injuries due to chaos outside a cash disbursement centre in Jampur, according to sources.
Rescue 1122 officials shifted the injured women to Jampur Tehsil Headquarters Hospital where their condition was stated to be stable.
Later, the administration adopted standard operational procedures set to prevent the spread of coronavirus during the distribution of cash handouts.
Shakeel Ahmed from Multan, Saleem Mubarak from Faisalabad and Tariq Saeed Birmani from Dera Ghazi Khan contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2020