GOJRA: At least 100 houses constructed on government land have been razed to the ground on direct orders from Punjab Revenue and Relief Minister Haji Muhammad Ishaq.
The 100 families had gradually moved into the small living quarters in Mongi Bungalow, Chak-241 over a span of 25 years. Over time the residents of the village had also managed to acquire water and electricity connections. The expansion of the squatter settlement was ignored until last week when the provincial government passed directions to demolish the entire locality.
Local residents alleged that the operation was carried out without even a warning notice. The villagers protested the drive and said that most of their belongings were buried under the debris. They said that they were left standing in the scorching heat as bulldozers, tractors and heavy machinery moved in to dismantle their homes.
Protestors shouted slogans against Haji Mohammad and set his effigy on fire.
Abdul Haq, Abdul Qayum, Muhammad Shafiq, Abdul Ghafar and Abdul Shakoor who lost their homes in the government operation complained that they were poor labourers who did not have the means to immediately relocate elsewhere.
They accused the minister of acting on a whim and leaving them without shelter. They said that the provincial government should have shown them enough consideration to warn them ahead of the demolition operation.
Abdul Ghafar said: “It took me a lifetime of backbreaking labour to construct my small house and buy the few household items that made up my entire life. If they had just asked me to leave, I could have collected my things, maybe sold a few and relocated elsewhere. But they had to take away my dignity as well”.
Others complained that the PPP minister had made a complete mockery of his party slogan ‘roti, kapra, makaan’ by acting so recklessly.
The labourers pointed out that several people were reported to have constructed lavish mansions on government property, some within Gojra city. They complained that the government had failed to earmark urban homes in their drive against encroachments but had proceeded to quash their homes out of existence.
They appealed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary (SC) and Khawaja Muhammad Sharif (LHC) to take suo motu notice of the matter. The protestors also requested the Punjab chief minister to order a halt to the operation.
Gojra Tehsildar Usman Hasan Shah told The Express Tribune that he did not have the authority to stop the drive. He stated that the people were illegally settled in encroachments and could not be treated with compassion.
Finance Minister Haji Muhammad Ishaq admitted that he had ordered the demolition of the village but stated that he was a revenue minister and could not concern himself with colonies and issues pertaining to land-grabbers.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 31st, 2010.
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