Thousands of contract employees of the Population Welfare and Family Planning Department on Wednesday stormed the Civil Secretariat to protest the government’s failure to address their concerns.
They were demanding that the government shelve its plans to merge the department with the Health Department, regularisation of service and a revision of pay scales.
Work remained suspended at the Secretariat for the entire day. Many Secretariat employees were seen standing on rooftops, watching the demonstration.
The six-hour demonstration ended around 3:30 pm after the police baton charged the protesters to force them out. Two women who fainted in the clash were taken to a hospital. About 200 protesters were arrested and detained at several police stations across the city.
Later, the inspector general of Punjab police suspended DSP Iqbal Shah and DIG (Operations) suspended Islampura SHO for failing to control the protesters. An inquiry was also initiated against the Secretariat’s security DSP.
Ahmed Awan, the All Pakistan Clerks Association’s (APCA) population department chapter, had issued a call for the protest. The protesters had started gathering outside Nasser Bagh around 9 am. They remained on Lower Mall for about two hours and then gathered in front of the main gate of the Secretariat.
No senior official met them. According to witnesses, some of them then went up to the gate where a few policemen were standing. The police officials asked them to stay away from the gate and when they didn’t listen, protesters said, they were pushed away. A few protesters said that one of the policemen hit a woman, identified as Aasma. The protesters broke down the gate, entered the Secretariat building and broke the glass panes of the chief secretary’s office’s door and flower pots. Chief Secretary Nasir Mehmood Khosa was not in the office at the time. An official said that they also broke the windscreen of two official vehicles parked at the Ministers’ block.
They then staged a sit-in on the lawns adjacent to the chief secretary’s office. At this point a team of senior officials, led by Additional Chief Secretary Jalal Sikandar Sultan tried to negotiate with the protesters.
Awan, Muhammad Moazzam Khan and Kamran Shah represented the protesting employees. They were assured that the government would address their demands in four days. The protesters, however, refused to disperse.
Leaders of the protesters then started making speeches.
Muhammad Sarwar, president of Layyah district employees, said the Health Department had taken possession of family welfare centres of the Population Welfare Department. “Our workers have no place to go,” he said.
Police baton charged the protesters after they refused to break up.
Commissioner Jawad Rafique, who briefed reporters afterwards, said the government will try and meet the protesters’ demands before the next budget. Rafique denied that the government was considering any proposal for merging the two departments.
Awan, the Population Welfare and Family Planning Association president, said the protest would continue till the acceptance of their demands. Later, the APCA announced that they will “seal government offices across the Punjab for three days” to protest police’s attitude.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.