The anti-encroachment drive by the city commissioner and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) took a violent turn on Thursday night as the Central deputy commissioner and North Nazimabad assistant commissioner were attacked by angry shopkeepers in Hyderi.
When the makeshift eateries blocking the roads in the market were forcefully removed, DC Afzal Zaidi and assistant commissioner Shaikh Muhammad Rafique, unaccompanied by any policemen, found themselves surrounded by irate shopkeepers.
Arsalan, a salesman, told The Express Tribune that when the anti-encroachment team arrived at the market, the owners of the pushcarts and kiosks that littered the area began to flee, leaving their carts behind. "When the deputy commissioner and his team started removing the carts, one of the men shoved a shop salesman and told him to remove the carts. That is when the chaos erupted," he explained. "The carts did not belong to the shopkeepers. Why should they remove them?"
He narrated that an angry mob gathered around Zaidi, with some of the shopkeepers grabbing him by his collar and pelting him with stones. Recounting how the DC and his team rushed into a garment store, he said that the guards pulled down the shutters and opened aerial fire to disperse the crowd.
Another salesman, Zafar, told The Express Tribune that in the days leading up to Eidul Fitr, the market is thronged by women and families. "As soon as we heard the gunshots, we pulled down the shutters and four women got stuck in our shop. They had to leave by the backdoor once the mob had dispersed."
According to Haadi Bukhsh, the head muharrar at the Hyderi police station, the anti-encroachment team had not informed the police before arriving at the market. "Our regular constables were on duty there but for such operations, we need more force," he said. "Had we been informed beforehand, we would have sent our police vans and nothing chaotic would have happened."
When Rafique was asked why no police escort was requested before the operation, thus putting the lives of several people at risk, he responded that he was not there for an operation. "We only went to the market for a routine visit," he claimed. "When the KMC's land department saw a team from the DC's office there, they started removing the pushcarts."
According to him, however, around 50 carts were subsequently confiscated. "I have asked the KMC's land department as well as the police to ensure that the cart owners never encroach the area again," he added.
The senior director of KMC's anti-encroachment department, Mazhar Khan, claimed that in the wake of the incident on Thursday, a large operation was carried out on Friday morning and the entire market was cleared of encroachments.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.