LAHORE: Against the backdrop of disorder, seventy-year-old Mahmood Khan died in queue on Wednesday morning.
Desperate to get his long overdue pension of Rs4,000, the elderly Railways pensioner wanted to be one of the first to get to the bank in the morning. He stood in queue all night outside National Bank of Pakistan’s Mughalpura Railways Workshop branch.
Despite his vigilance, he would, however, not end up seeing that Rs4,000. The septuagenarian had been waiting for his pension since October 1.
Khan had retired ten years ago as a driver for Pakistan Railways. On Wednesday, as Khan fell to the ground, his former colleagues – themselves desperate for their salaries and pensions – rushed him to the hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.
The pensioners protested against Railways authorities, chanting slogans against the federal government.
Mahmood Khan is one of thousands of employees and pensioners of Pakistan Railways that have not received dues from the highly-mismanaged bleeding public sector enterprise.
Some two weeks ago, officials in charge of pension payments in some centres had said that the payment of pensions was being delayed due to non-availability of funds. Earlier, bank officers said that cheques issued by the federal government for payment of pension bounced for want of funds in the account. They said that if new cheques are issued and cleared, the payments will be made shortly.
To tackle the issue of bounced cheques, the Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour had met President Asif Ali Zardari on October 16. But the meeting ended without a major breakthrough. The president had directed that payments to pensioners and employees be ensured within seven days.
Some money was released. However, the issue continued to fester as many stood in line waiting for the money.
There has been a spate of protests against the management of the Railways and the government by the aggrieved employees – current and former – across the country.
Some employees have not been paid for as many as five months, while a number of pensioners have also not received their meagre dues for months. When not protesting, the pensioners and employees have stood in long queues outside banks to see if they can receive these dues.
Railways’ chief accounts officer had said on Tuesday that the enterprise required Rs75 million to pay pensions to retired employees, while only Rs5.5 million were given out so far. The official, Muhammad Akram, said Railways needed Rs2 billion from the government to pay salaries and pensions for the next month.
On the other hand, Railways authorities told reporters on Wednesday that the government has released funds that will be enough to pay salaries and pensions till November 5.
Meanwhile, Additional District and Sessions Judge Munir Ahmed issued notice to Mughalpura Police SHO. He was hearing a petition seeking that murder charges be pressed against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Railways secretary for Khan’s death.
Advocate Muhammad Azhar Siddique has filed the, petition saying that he had earlier filed an application at the police station for registration of the case but the police refused. He said that the SHO should be directed to register an FIR against the respondents, declaring them responsible for the pensioner’s death.
President takes notice
President Asif Ali Zardari has taken serious notice of the incident and called for an immediate inquiry. He also took notice of the long queues of pensioners at the bank.
Presidential Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the president directed that the Railways secretary should visit the Railways Headquarters in Lahore and investigate why the situation had worsened so much. He asked to submit a report to the prime minister with a copy to the Presidency within three days.
(ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2011.