Over a hundred traders were arrested after engaging in running battles with riot police on Ferozepur Road on Monday, as the city government ran into heavy resistance to its plans to shift the Kot Lakhpat fruit and vegetable market to Gajju Matah.
City officials said that the protestors were “troublemakers” who didn’t own the land at Kot Lakhpat and were trying to coerce the government into paying them off to vacate it. The shopkeepers said that shifting the market to Gajju Matah would be the end of their businesses as the site was inaccessible and lacked facilities.
Gulberg Town staff and machinery, accompanied by a heavy police contingent, arrived at Kot Lakhpat at around 8am to tear down the market. They were met by around a thousand traders and workers protesting on Ferozepur Road.
The policemen in riot gear tried to get the crowd away but the protestors resisted and some started throwing bricks at them. They overturned a van and set in on fire and placed burning tyres on the road.
Police called in reinforcements. They baton-charged the protestors, but the fighting intensified. They then fired in the air and lobbed tear gas shells to drive the protestors away. A total of 110 were rounded up and later booked by Liaqatabad police. All the city’s superintendents of police and the deputy inspector general were also at the scene.
Police said that 18 personnel were injured, though Rescue 1122 officials reported transporting half that number to hospital. They had no estimates of how many protestors were injured. Some 300 policemen were involved in the action.
District Coordination Officer Ahad Cheema said the protestors were “troublemakers” trying to exploit the government by demanding land that didn’t belong to them.
“We have allotted 1,045 kanals at Gajju Matah to 126 traders. Sheds have been set up there so that we can start shifting the market. The traders will be provided all the facilities they require,” he said.
“Two kilometres from Hadiara drain, no road, no Sui gas, no bank, no lights, no washroom, no police post nearby … these are the facilities they are giving us,” said Akram Bhatti, a trader. “The sheds have no walls, so you can’t store goods in them.”
He said the proposed site was very hard to reach. He would have to move his goods there by cart and the area was not safe in the mornings and evenings. “The site is barely accessible to us so why would any buyers go there? They will start going to the vegetable market near Minar-i-Pakistan as that is much easier to get to,” he said.
Muhammad Rafique, another trader, said that the government’s move amounted to “financial murder” of the traders. He said that the government had bribed a trader union with multiple plots at Gajju Matah, while members of his union had not been officially allotted any plots. “The government is playing a dirty game. It cannot expect the traders to agree to shift the market after mere verbal assurances,” he said.
He claimed that none of the actual Kot Lakhpat traders had turned violent during the protests. “Our members were not causing trouble. They were arrested from inside their shops,” he said.
Members of the other trader union were not available for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2011.