GUJRAT: A villager was killed and six others were injured by the alleged firing of the security guards of the New Metro City Housing Scheme at village Choa Kariala of tehsil Sara-i-Alamgir on Sunday. A security guard of the housing scheme was also injured during the clash.

The death of the villager led to about six hours long blockade of the GT Road, leading to a massive traffic jam.

Police said the clash between the villagers and the security guards of the housing scheme started over a land dispute as the villagers resisted the operation of the housing scheme’s machinery on their land at village Choa Kariala.

A large number of the affected villagers belonging to adjacent villages also gathered at the scene and held a protest against, what they termed, consistent land grabbing by the housing scheme. At this, according to police, the security guards of the housing scheme opened indiscriminate firing on the protesters, which resulted in the death of one Muhammad Sarwar and bullet injuries to at least six villagers, including a 65-year-old woman. All of the injured were shifted to the Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Teaching Hospital Gujrat after first aid at the Sara-i-Alamgir Tehsil Headquarters Hospital. Two of the injured are said to be in critical condition.

Police said a security guard of the Metro City Housing Scheme, identified as Faisal Fouji, was also got injured in the clash.

Protest over land grabbing leads to clash; GT Road blocked for six hours

After the firing, a large number of locals gathered in front of housing scheme and put its offices, restaurants, coffee shop and offices of agents and builders inside the scheme on fire to vent their anger whereas some vehicles, including a car and motorbikes of security staff, were also set on fire. The angry mob besieged the offices; however, police rescued some of the staff members from the troubled area.

After the attack and firing, the protesters blocked the GT Road by putting the body of the deceased on it in front of the housing scheme. The protesters were chanting slogans against police, Sara-i-Alamgir DSP and local administration for failing to protect their properties from the alleged land grabbers.

The villagers said they had registered complaints against the land grabbing by the housing scheme with the Sara-i-Alamgir police but in vain as police did not register the cases. They said the land grabbing would often take place on Sundays and police, in some cases, did not act despite the reports of the land revenue department’s field staff.

They alleged that the security guards of housing scheme would often resort to firing and land grabbing. However, police claimed that at least half a dozen cases had already been lodged against the housing scheme staff and guards during the last six months.

Gujrat District Police Officer Umar Salamat reached the spot along with a heavy contingent of police and engaged the representatives of protesters in a dialogue to remove the body of the deceased and clear the national highway of the blockade. After the talks, the GT Road was opened for traffic.

After the killing of the villager and firing, Sara-i-Alamgir Saddar police registered a case against 10 nominated suspects, including Metro City director Jameel Bukhari and some security guards, and at least 40 unidentified suspects under sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, including Section 302, on the report of Nazim Hussain, a close kin of the deceased.

DPO Salamat told Dawn that some suspects had been detained by police after the incident whereas a case was being lodged in this regard.

However, the responsibility for the clash would be fixed on merit after investigation, the DPO said and added that police had earlier lodged several cases against the management of housing society and guards but the disputes on the ownership of land and litigation had been the actual bone of contention.

On the other hand, the management of New Metro City Housing Scheme blamed the villagers for resorting to violence and attacking its staff and machinery at the site, which led to the firing. The housing scheme is owned by Malik Bilal, the maternal grandson of property tycoon Malik Riaz.

In the recent past, the security guards of two adjoining housing schemes in the area had also exchanged fire against each other.

Former MNA Malik Hanif Awan, Jamaat-i-Islami Punjab emir Dr Tariq Saleem, Tanveer Kotla chairman Gujrat district council and other leaders have condemned the violent incident.

In their separate statements, they held the leaders of the ruling coalition partners in the Punjab government, local police and district administration responsible for leaving the masses at the mercy of the land grabbers.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021

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