Dozens of squatters staged a sit-in on Ferozepur Road on Sunday in a protest against the demolition of their houses on Saturday by district administration to clear the land for construction of a road.
At least 200 houses along Rohi drain in Kahna were demolished on Saturday on a two hours’ notice, Karamat, a daily-wage labourer told The Express Tribune. “We were told the land was needed to construct a road to the new Fruit and Vegetable Market,” Karamat Masih said.
He said the settlement was set up five years ago when they were evicted from a similar illegal settlement in Sabzazar.
“At least 800 people lived in those houses. The government never warned us against living there during the last five years and on Saturday they turned up with bulldozers to evict us. We need compensation,” said Elizabeth, a house wife. She said with the houses flattened their furniture and kitchen wares were lying all over the place along the drain.
Manzoor Ahmed, another squatter, said the settlement had Muslim as well as Christian families. He said most of the squatters were daily-wage labourers whose earnings were not enough to afford monthly rents in legal housing colonies let alone own a house. He said unless the government arranged some land for them they had no option but to set up their tents on state land.
The demo ended after Model Town station house officer Tajammul Hussain assured the protestors that the tehsildar concerned had been called to the Kahna police station to devise a plan for relocation of the families affected by demolition. “If he doesn’t come to the police station today, you can go to his office tomorrow. He can’t avoid you for long,” he told protesters.
Model Town assistant commissioner Irfan Memon, however, expressed ignorance about any plan to relocate the squatter to another area. He said the land was owned by Irrigation Department who had requested the district administration to clear the encroachments. He said construction of the road would begin in a week. Memon said the government would likely try to accommodate them somewhere else but added that he could not guarantee relief.
Lawyer Misha Rehman, who was present at the protest, said under the Punjab Katchi Abadis Act 1992 a settlement with more than 40 houses was entitled to the status of a katchi abadi. “The law holds government responsible for arranging municipal works such as sanitation, electricity and gas infrastructure at such a settlement,” she said. She said if the owner of the land refused to allow the establishment of the katchi abadi then the government was responsible for relocating the squatters to another area.
AC Memon said he was unaware of any request the residents had made for declaration of the squatter settlement as a katchi abadi under the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2011.