LAHORE: Scores of shopkeepers launched a massive protest by blocking the main road after an elderly fruit seller died of a cardiac arrest during an anti-encroachment operation in the Multan Road (Chungi) vegetable and fruit market on Friday.
The shopkeepers also besieged the encroachment team head (city assistant commissioner), forcing the officials to leave the area. They refused to lift the body of 60-year-old Sharif from the road and end the protest till registration of criminal cases against all those conducting the anti-encroachment operation.
“We will neither remove the body of Sharif nor will we end the protest until registration of cases on murder charges against the officials who launched the operation,” Qaisar, a vendor, told Dawn.
“What this government wants to do with us… it seems it wants to kill the poor people,” he deplored.
The city administration had decided a couple of days ago to launch operations in city’s five vegetable & fruit markets including the one on Multan Road (Mandi stop) near Mansoora. A team comprising city and respective zonal / town officials and led by AC (City) Ahmad Raza Butt removed 300 temporarily built shops in the market and arrested four people for protesting and offering resistance.
The teams even crushed fruits and vegetables under the wheels of the tractors.
“Some officials manhandled the vendors including Sharif who collapsed and died on the spot,” alleged a vendor.
AC Ahmad Raza Butt told Dawn the operation was carried out in the light of instructions issued by the agriculture department.
“This market was turned into a non-formal set-up as no auction had been done for a long time. Those who had been allotted shops had left the businesses and these were being used for other purposes such as workshops. Many people had illegally occupied various spaces and the operation was meant to remove such encroachments / businesses and revive the market,” he claimed.
He denied that the vendor died due to manhandling. In fact, the vendors were selling fruits / vegetables in a street leading to the market and the operation was carried out only inside the market, he said.
“Whenever such operations are carried out, the vendors start fleeing with their wheel carts. So the vendor might have suffered a heart attack in a bid to hastily move away,” he said.
The protesters held talks with the senior officials including the SP (city) and demanded that the Chief Justice of Pakistan take notice of the situation.
“We appeal to the CJP to take suo motu notice and order registration of cases against the officials,” a protester demanded.