Two more die, 56 injured in stampedes at free flour centres in Punjab

Published March 29, 2023
Police try to control the people gathered at a free flour distribution centre at Garhi Shahu. — White Star / M. Arif
Police try to control the people gathered at a free flour distribution centre at Garhi Shahu. — White Star / M. Arif

SAHIWAL: An old woman and a man died while 56 people, including 45 women, were injured in stampedes at free flour centres in Sahiwal, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh and Okara districts of the province on Tuesday as the mismanagement in distribution continues since the government began the activity and the people started dashing to distribution points.

The old woman who came to collect free flour died in a stampede while 45 women received injuries of various types at a flour distribution centre at the Quaid-i-Azam Stadium during the early hours of Tuesday.

There was reportedly a technical glitch with the app used to verify the beneficiaries and it stopped working. This resulted in a great rush of people at free flour distribution who got frustrated due to the long wait for the system to restart working.

It is said the app link remained down and did not restart for three to four hours and there were more than 1,500 women present in the stadium who had come to receive flour. The stadium has one of the biggest flour distribution points in the city.

The injured include 45 women in Sahiwal; 1,500 women had gathered at centre

Many women blamed the police for causing the mayhem at the centre, saying though there was a rush of people, the situation was calm until the Civil Lines policemen deputed at the centre started manhandling and baton-charging the citizens. The stampede occurred due to the disorder.

An eyewitness said the administration’s app went down and the people started shouting in discomfort stuck in the rush and long queues. Police tried to calm the situation but instead of normalising the situation, they started baton charge while the women were seen being slapped and pushed by the policemen, which infuriated the crowd further, leading to the worsening of the situation and a stampede.

More than 45 women and two men were injured in the stampede while one of the women died. Rescue 1122 ambulances rushed to the stadium to respond to the emergency.

The woman who died was identified as Naseem Akhter, wife of Ameer, a resident of Karbala Road, Sahiwal city.

Adnan Shamas of the Rescue 1122 official told Dawn more around six emergency vehicles and staff treated the injured women and men. Twenty-five injured women were shifted to the Sahiwal Teaching Hospital for further medical treatment while the rest were provided first aid on the spot.

The hospitalised injured included Suraiya, Nazeeran, Asia, Kausar, Shazia, Zubaida, Nazia, Bhagaan Bibi, Kalsoom, Atiba, Sakina, Nazia, Shamim, Waziraan Bibi, Naseem Bibi, Naureen, Saima, Mariam and Yasmin. Two men, identified as Younas and Sabir, also received injuries. The injured women belong to urban and surrounding rural localities.

Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has reportedly taken notice of the woman’s death at a flour distribution point and ordered the inquiry into the stampede.

Commissioner Shoaib Iqbal and Regional Police Officer Mahmoob Rasheed reached the spot along with district management officials.

The commissioner stepped into the crowd and addressed the people through a megaphone. He requested them to calm down and make queues to collect flour.

While talking to the media, he confirmed that the app was down, which created frustration among the citizens gathered to collect free flour.

Later, he visited the Sahiwal Teaching Hospital and inquired after the injured women.

RAHIM YAR KHAN: A 73-year-old man who had come to get free flour at a distribution point at the Govt High School Taranda Muhammad Pannah of tehsil Liaqatpur died.

The deceased was identified as Muhammad Anwar, a resident of Basti Garhi Darkhan.

According to reports, there was a rush of people at the centre and Anwar got pushed around until he fell down and received critical injuries. Some people alleged that the disorder had occurred due to the protocol of the deputy commissioner on his arrival at the centre.

In the rush of people, Anwar fell down and fainted. The rescuers gave him first aid and rushed him to the Rural Health Centre Taranda Muhammad Pannah. At the RHC, Anwar regained consciousness and he gave a statement. He said he was at the free flour centre point to get flour when the incident occurred. He was later shifted to the Bahawal Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur, where he died.

Liaqatpur Assistant Commissioner Sarmad Ali Bhagat did not attend the calls made to him to give his version.

RYK Deputy Commissioner Shakeel Ahmed Bhatti told Dawn he was unaware of the details of the incident but he was informed that Anwar was hit by a motorcycle near the distribution centre. However, he did not confirm the cause of Anwar’s death. The DC sought a report and formed an inquiry committee, headed by the AC Liaqatpur, to look into the matter.

There were very poor arrangements at the central flour distribution point at Markazi Eidgah also. Many men and women complained that when they showed their CNICs to the staff, they were told that they did not meet the criteria for free flour.

MUZAFFARGARH: Seven people were injured when the wall of a banquet hall in Shehr Sultan where the flour centre was set up collapsed due the huge rush of people.

The rescue staff said a mud wall of the banquet hall collapsed due to a great number of people. They said the seven injured people were provided with first aid and they were rushed to the nearest hospital in Shehr Sultan.

Four of the injured were stated to be critical. They were identified as Tariq (60), the son of Aqil Hussain, Muhammad Ali (40), son of Wali Muhammad, Mehmood (50), son of Allah Diwaya and Haji Khan (40), son of Elahi Bakhsh.

Besides the wall collapse incident, there are reports the police officials using batons against the people at the free flour centre.

Against the poor management by the administration at the Point Moon Marriage Hall of Jatoi, the people blocked a road in a protest. They raised slogans against the SHO Jatoi for his abusive attitude towards them at the flour centre.

OKARA: Four women suffered injuries and two fell unconscious at the free flour supply point at Depalpur.

A stampede occurred due to heavy rush of people at the centre. As a result, four women fell down on the ground and suffered injuries as others ran over them.

The police rescued the injured women lying on the ground. The rescuers provided them with first aid. Two women who had fainted were shifted to hospital.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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