• Many hurt in stampede as crowd storms truck laden with flour bags
• Opposition parties accuse PPP govt of taking merely cosmetic measures
MIRPURKHAS: While people have been protesting across the province against meager supply of subsidised flour, a labourer was killed in a stampede when several hundred people stormed the few trucks laden with wheat flour as soon as the consignment arrived at a designated spot, Gulistan-i-Baldia Park, in Mirpurkhas on Saturday. Several other people were injured in the incident.
The incident triggered a strong reaction from political parties which accused the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government of “cosmetic arrangements” in the name of relief and demanded legal action against the officials of the district administration.
Harsingh Kolhi, 35, was among the several hundred men and women waiting for several hours for the arrival of the food department’s consignment at the park. The desperate crowd stormed the trucks as soon as the supplies hit the point. A stampede ensued and several people suffered injuries in the incident. Kolhi, a labourer and father of six, fell down during the mess and was crushed to death. He was a resident of Malhi Colony and intended to fetch a five-kg bag of flour.
Crowds gathering at such points across Sindh to buy flour at subsidised rate of Rs65 a kilo is a common scene these days amid an acute shortage of the commodity that has pushed up the price to Rs140-160 a kilo at retail outlets in different areas of the province.
Armed police guards posted at the point to maintain order utterly failed to control the crowd.
The incident caused outrage among the people present there and many of them came forward to pick up the body and take it towards the local press club, where they held a noisy demonstration against food department and district administration holding them responsible for the flour shortage and the untoward situation.
They blocked the main road leading to Hyderabad by placing Kolhi’s body in the middle of the road. They kept raising slogans against the department and the administration. They urged the federal and Sindh governments as well as the judiciary to take immediate measures to overcome wheat shortage and bring down it price to avoid recurrence of such incidents anywhere in the province.
The protesters alleged that the artificial hike in flour price was caused by a few flour mills, which were getting wheat quota at lower rates, in collusion with food officials.
They demanded a murder case to be registered against those millers and corrupt officials, including the district’s food controller. They also claimed that subsidised flour was being sold in local markets at a much higher price as certain flour mills were getting 10,000 wheat bags each per month at low rates from the department.
Later, Kolhi’s body was brought to the Mirpurkhas Civil Hospital for a postmortem examination before it was handed over to the heirs.
Reacting sharply over the incident, Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh condemned the federal and Sindh authorities for failing to ensure availability of flour to people at normal rate and avert an acute shortage leading to such a situation.
Expressing his shock over the labourer’s death and sorrow over sufferings of masses. He supported the protesters’ demand for the registration of a murder case against those responsible for the casualties, and said the case should be registered against the Mirpurkhas deputy commissioner, SSP, food controller and other officials.
Sardar Raheem of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) called it a “crime” on part of the Sindh government. In a statement, he said the provincial government in fact was making people fool through media gimmicks.
“The ground reality is totally different. Half of Sindh is still suffering from the devastation of floods and the relief goods and funds collected in their names have not yet reached them.
“On the other hand, the people who survived from the floods devastations are unable to get flour at official rate. All rural Sindh districts are suffering the same problem but there’s no administration on ground to pay heed,” he said.
Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman of the Jamaat-i-Islami also condemned the incident and demanded the arrest of officials responsible for the mismanagement. He said even Karachi were facing the crisis created by the mismanagement of Sindh government.
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2023