Gasping for air: Protest against pollution by fertiliser factories

Nearly 2,000 demonstrators closed Multan-Bahawalpur highway, many broke into a fertiliser factory.


Our Correspondent July 05, 2014

MULTAN:


Nearly 2,000 residents in Multan closed a key road for over four hours in protest against pollution that they blamed on 10 fertilisers factories in the area.


The protesters broke the gate of a fertiliser factory and agreed to end their protest only after the administration sealed the factory and agreed to consider other demands.

The protesters gathered at Multan-Bahawalpur National Highway early in the morning and stopped all traffic from Multan to Bahawalpur division and onwards to Sindh.

They said that the fertiliser factories on the outskirts of Multan had been degrading the environment for almost a million citizens in the nearby areas who had suffered on account of various diseases. They were upset that the district and provincial governments had not put any check on the release of toxic smoke and chemicals from these factories. They chanted slogans against the fertiliser factories’ owners and the provincial government.

Ahmed Ali, a resident of Basti Malook, said he was suffering from lungs disease and knew at least 100 people who suffered from the same ailment.

He blamed pollution caused by the fertiliser factories over the last decade for the illness.

Enough is enough

The protesters told The Express Tribune that they would not open the road until the authorities contacted them and agreed to their demands. The demonstrators carried sticks and iron rods apparently to take on the police if they tried to disperse them.

The protesters included residents of several localities including Basti Malook, a big rural settlement, who said that the chemical waste from the factories, particularly sulphur, had affected the agricultural land. They said nearly 200 acres of agricultural land had been completely devastated due to chemical waste from the fertiliser factories.

Key demands

The protesters demanded financial relief and medical camps in the peripheries of Multan where they said the pollution by fertiliser factories had caused serious disease and lands of small farmers had been devastated. They claimed that an area of almost 15 square kilometres was directly affected by the pollution caused by 10 fertiliser factories.

Factory attacked

The protesters were also joined by the residents of Adda Muhammadpura. Small farmers among the protesters attacked a major fertiliser factory.

The Basti Malook station house officer (SHO) was among the first policemen to arrive at the scene when protesters broke down the door of one of the fertiliser factories, Southern Chemicals (Pvt) Limited.

The security guards at the factory initially tried to stop the protesters and a few guards and some protesters received minor injuries in the scuffle. The factory officials managed to run away before the protesters entered the premises.

Worried for their jobs

Talking to The Express Tribune, the workers at the factory demanded the closure of all fertiliser factories in the region. They said that the closure of the factory would render 500 daily-wage workers jobless.

Police engaged the protesters in negotiations.

The demonstrators agreed to end their protest after the factory was sealed by the district administration and the police under Section 144.

The other side of the story

Muhammad Zahid, general manager of the factory that was attacked, told journalists that they had done nothing illegal and if their factory was closed only for producing fertiliser then all fertilisers factories in the region should be closed.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2014.

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