Nearly 200 huts were burnt in a slum, displacing near 1,200 daily wage workers, beggars and gypsies late on Tuesday night.
The displaced said they were woken up by the sound of trucks arriving at the site between Capri Cinema and Dera Adda Square around 1am. They said some people standing on the trucks were beating drums.
They said the men threw kerosene oil from the trucks before setting the houses on fire. They said they left an opening for people to flee.
A Rescue 1122 spokesman said they were informed about the fire at around 1.45 am. He said it took Rescue 1122 and the fire brigade five hours to put out the fire.
He said no injuries were reported in the incident.
He said first aid was given to 50 people, including women and children.
Sabira Bibi, 50, told The Express Tribune that she was woken up by her seven-year-old grandson.
“At first we did not pay attention to the trucks in the area because many vehicles pass through the place every day,” she said.
Muhammad Ramazan, who works at a tea stall, said the arsonists had left a corridor for people to escape. He said the fire spread quickly leaving no one with time to collect their belongings.
Operations SSP Chaudhary Saleem told The Express Tribune that initial investigations suggested that as many as 20 people were involved.
He said statements of witnesses had been recorded. He said not many people could identify the culprits because they were scrambling for cover from the fire.
District Coordination Officer Zahid Saleem told The Express Tribune that the incident would be jointly probed by police and the district government.
He said the slum dwellers had been encouraged to vacate the area by traders and the district government in the past, but no anti-encroachment drive had been carried out. He said the district government was assessing the damage caused and was making lists of those who had been affected in the fire. He said further steps would be taken in the light of findings of the inquiry report.
He said nearly 1,100 had lost valuables in the fire.
The DCO said most victims were daily wages labourers, nomads and beggars. He said the area had been illegally occupied by them. He said the land was meant for commercial purposes and construction of a plaza had been planned in the area.
On Wednesday afternoon, over 800 people protested today at Dera Adda against the district government for failing to find and arrest those responsible.
They chanted slogans against the DCO and police.
“Who will compensate us for losing everything?” said Saadat Thalla. “We are the poorest of the poor. The land we lived on for most our lives was never even ours.”
The protest lasted for over four hours.
Assistant Commission Ataul Haq met with the protesters and assured them that all possible steps were being taken to ascertain responsibility. “We take these attacks very seriously and all possible steps are being taken to find the suspects,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2014.