Gas, power load-shedding: Protests cause massive traffic snarls on Expressway

Published: September 20, 2014
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Police had to use teargas to dispers the protesters and clear Islamabad Expressway. PHOTOS: inp

Police had to use teargas to dispers the protesters and clear Islamabad Expressway. PHOTOS: inp

ISLAMABAD: 

What started as a protest against prolonged gas and electricity load-shedding quickly degenerated into violence, with riot police coming in and firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The use of teargas was preceded by scuffle between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) workers and the police at Faizabad Interchange. According to police sources, the protesters ‘mistakenly thought’ that the traffic jam was due to enhanced checking by the police to prevent them from reaching the ongoing sit-in at Constitution Avenue.

The sources said the clashes started when PTI workers started removing a barricade near Faizabad Interchange. They had started burning tyres and pelting stones at the policemen, after which tear gas was fired to disperse the protesters, the sources said.

No injuries had been reported till the time this story was filed.

Unintended consequences

The day began with residents of Dhoke Kala Khan, Iqbal Town, Khanna Pul, Shamsabad and other surrounding areas gathered at Khanna Pul after Friday prayers and block the expressway. They forced traffic by building an obstacle course with stones, tree branches, tyres and their own vehicles. Angry protesters holding sticks and stones also threatened to assault anyone who dared to get around them by driving off-road.

The result was queues of vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper on the expressway and link roads leading to Murree Road, Pirwadhai, Club Road and Faisal Avenue. It took commuters over four-to-five hours to navigate the road, which would normally take under half-an-hour in normal driving conditions.

While the traffic police faced an uphill task trying to manage traffic on the roads, commuters did little to help them, as many drivers also tried to drive on the green belts, only to cause further traffic snarls when some cars ended up getting stuck on the dividers.

No carrots, just sticks

The load-shedding protesters were of the view that for the past two weeks, they were facing immense problems due to service outages.

“We are unable to cook food. We cannot see our children suffering,” Sajid Rizvi, a resident of Dhoke Khala Khan told The Express Tribune.

He said that in the absence of natural gas supply, they try to cook on electric stoves, but due to prolonged and unscheduled power outage, they are unable to do so.

“We are force to buy food from restaurants, which is impossible to sustain because we cannot afford it,” he said.

Shahida Bibi, a resident of Shamsabad said, “Today it was unbearable when my son came home from school and I couldn’t give him lunch. He also had no breakfast because there was no gas. This forced me to come on the street and protest.”

Hameed Khan, a resident of Khana Pul, said, “Party leaders are busy in fighting to become prime minister and I am really wondering when they will address the issues of their constituents, let alone the whole country.”

Khan said the situation in the area has not changed since the 2013 elections and people are being deprived of basic necessities such as natural gas and electricity.

Mess management

Meanwhile, talking to The Express Tribune, deputy superintendent of Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP), Illyas Hasmi said ITP personnel are making all-out efforts to control traffic flow by providing alternative routes.

“But the  situation had worsened because PTI and PAT protesters coming to the capital in huge numbers also caused severe jams on major thoroughfares such as IJP Principal Road, Golra Mor, Club Road and Margalla Road,” he said.

Interestingly, even though containers were seen placed on some multi-lane roads and causing bottlenecks, the DSP said that the traffic police had not blocked any roads.

Traffic had begun flowing smoothly by 10pm.  Meanwhile, traffic in the Golra area started moving after commuters removed barricades on the G-11 service road.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2014.

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