A demolition operation by the city government in South Cantt ran into trouble on Monday as residents of Nishat Colony and Marium Colony did not take kindly to it.
Several people, including police personnel, were injured in a clash that went on for more than four hours. Liaqat Ali, the South Cantt station house officer, said that 12 people had been arrested by the police. Ali claimed that at least 12 police officials had been injured in the clash.
The commotion was over a 55kanals of land, most of which is a ground used by locals for recreational purposes. The government now plans to convert it into a sports complex with the help of Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA). The complex will include an Eid Gah, a Janaza Gah, a children’s park, a playground, a basket ball court, a cafeteria, a jogging track, a badminton court and a lawn for weddings.
PHA teams, along with police personnel, started razing the boundary wall around the community ground on the Faisal Ghuman Road at around 8am. By 9:30am, the operation had attracted the fury of the residents who started pelting police with stones. The police retaliated by baton charging them, a response that aggravated the situation. Women, police said, also joined in the protest and hurled stones from roof tops. More police personnel were called in and eight Teargas shells were fired to disperse the protesters. The standoff continued till 2pm. The situation improved only after MNA Khawaja Saad Rafique and MPA Yaseen Sohal reached the spot and offered to negotiate with the residents. The talks went on until 6pm.
The outcome, however, was unclear. Raja Ather, a member of the committee that met the MNA and the MPA, told The Express Tribune that the residents had not been taken into confidence about the development plan. He said that though they had met with the legislators they had not agreed to it. “We’ve told the MNA that we’ll share the proposal with the locals who will make a final decision,” Ather said.
On the other hand, MPA Yaseen Sohal told The Tribune that the committee, which had met with them, had agreed to the government’s proposal. He claimed that government officials had gone “door-to-door” before the demolition operation to inform the people about the plan to construct a sports complex. Most of the people had no objection, said Sohal. Only a few “troublemakers” – who made money by renting the ground for fuctions – were creating problems, he said.
Imtiaz Ahmad, a resident of the area, told The Express Tribune that the land had belonged to the community for 10 years. It’s where the poor living in societies nearby come for recreation, he said. He said if the government wanted to improve the ground, it should only lay a jogging track and construct a boundary wall, “We don’t want any building on this,” Ahmad said.
PHA Additional Director General Captain (retd) Usman Younis claimed that the operation had not been stopped despite the agitation. He rejected the claim that the land belonged to anybody other than the Punjab government. He said that the project had been assigned to the Sports Board two years ago but it was unable to execute it. The PHA, he said, was given the project a month and a half ago. According to Captain Usman, the PHA planned on completing the project in four months if there were no incidents like Monday. The MPA and the MNA have constituted a committee to keep the PHA in the loop about the concerns of the locals, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2012.