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Govt goes `slow but steady` to win anti-encroachment race

By Khalid Hasnain 2018-10-31
LAHORE: The much-trumpeted operation against land grabbers and encroachment seems to have slowed down a bit and is now limited to few areas due to `increasing public complaints and resistance`.

The situation has forced the government to review its strategy for the Punjab capital and other big cities. During the clean-up operation, the official teams faced resistance at many places such as Harbanspura and those occupying the state land `legally or illegally` succeeded in approaching the political bigwigs.

A month-long drive was vigorously launched in Lahore and other cities of Punjab on Oct 2. The city district administration scheduled operations at many places including PIA Road (Johar Town), Anarkali, Dhani Ram Road and adjoining localities, Sabzazar, Circular Road, Ferozepur Road, Lytton Road, Samsani (Johar Town), Dharampura Bazaar, Daroghaywala Chowkto Bassi Morr, Harbanspura, Allama Iqbal Road, Madina Market (Township), Walled City, Ichhra Main Bazaar, Baghbanpura, Haq Nawaz Bazaar, Shalimar Link Road, Karim Block and Moon Market (Allama Iqbal Town), Jallo Morr, GT Road, Temple Road, Yateem Khana to Thokar Niaz Baig, Faisal Town and Liberty Market.

The teams carried out operations at most places according to a plan but couldn`t cover Harbanspura, Madina Market (Township), Tajpura, Lohari, Ichhra, parts of Johar Town, Baghbanpura, Allama Iqbal Town, Yatim Khana to Thokar Niaz Baig, Faisal Town, Queens Road, Abid Market, Mozang Adda, Liberty Market, Main Market Gulberg and a few other places.

`The situation started changing after thousands of residents in Harbanspura took to the street and blocked Canal Road in protest against the government for its scheduled operation on the second day (Oct 3).

They foiled the government`s bid to retrieve the state land in Harbanspura, forcing officials and police to retreat. The governmenttemporarily suspended the operation on the pretext of by-elections,` an official source told Dawn.

He said similarly a scheduled operation in Tajpura was also cancelled after the residents protested. An LDA team which made it to the site alleged that the assistant commissioner and police did not coordinate.

The source said the operation in Harbanspura was rescheduled many times and according to a strategy the government was to first detain the local influential people and then carry out the activity.

`Although some people were taken into custody by police, they were released owing to political pressure. The operation was again planned but delayed owing to the Urs of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh and Chehlum proceedings of Hazrat Imam Hussain,` he said.

Another source said the focus of operation seemed to have changed to semi urban and rural areas. Commercial properties were retrieved in the recent operations butmost pieces of state land were agriculture tracts taken back in Shahdara, Cantt tehsil and Raiwind.

He said the administration had retrieved residential, commercial, agriculture etc land worth about Rs17 billion.

An LDA official told Dawn that there were clear instructions of the government to give time to those who approach the relevant department or officials to volunteer removal of encroachment on their own.

Besides, he said, the government also directed the teams not to demolish structures in residential areas and slums.

Another factor that caused the operation to slow down was the officials` engagements in various additional jobs such as bye-elections.

Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan dispelled the impression and claimed that the operation against land grabbers had not slowed down. `It is very much in progress and Prime Minister Imran Khan also took briefing on the issue on Tuesday,` he said.