LAHORE: City officials had to suspend their attempt to clear the Kot Lokhpat fruit and vegetable market of encroachments on Saturday, first due to pressure from shopkeepers and then because of mechanical failure.

The Kot Lakhpat market, which is the biggest fruit and vegetable market in eastern Lahore, is heavily encroached upon. The shopkeepers have occupied spaces of some 50 feet in front of their shops that they rent out to vendors to set up temporary stalls. Each shop has some 15 to 20 stalls in front of it, bought for a cost of Rs200-300 per space, per day. There are 223 shops in the market.

Officials of the Lahore Development Authority and the Gulberg Town administration arrived with machinery at the market at 8am to clear the area as part of a citywide anti-encroachment drive.

As the staff began clearing away the temporary stalls, the shopkeepers and stall holders chanted slogans against the administration, creating a tense atmosphere. Additional policemen were called in from two police stations to control the protest, but the operation had to be halted after the area in front of just 15 shops had been cleared. Officials and representatives of the shopkeepers then held talks for a couple of hours.

The administration officials told the shopkeepers that they could only use 10 feet of space in front of their shops, apart from a 10-ft corridor in front of their shops. The shopkeepers initially insisted they had a right to 50 feet and later to 30 feet.

Muneer Ahmad, a wholesale merchant, said that he had maps showing that shopkeepers were allowed to use 50 square feet. “This is a busy market where thousands of people earn their livelihood. If the administration does things by force, we will all resist,” he said. “We are ready to agree to 20 feet. With this vey few will be affected and they can be accommodated at other places.”

Gulberg Town Municipal Officer Faisal Shahzad said that the shopkeepers are allowed to use a total area of 50 feet, which includes 30 feet for the shop, a 10-ft corridor and another 10-ft space. He said that the shopkeepers would not be allowed more space than this. He said that they had also encroached on the parking area and set up stalls there.

The administration filed an FIR against seven protestors and then resumed the operation at 3 pm. No resistance was offered then because most of the shopkeepers had already gone home.

The operation was again postponed when an LDA dumper stopped working. The space in front of two more shops had been cleared by then.

The city government is planning to shift the fruit and vegetable market to Gajjumatta. LDA Estate Management Director Nauman Khan, who is supervising the shifting plan, said he was confident that the traders would be more cooperative when it comes to moving to Gajjumatta.

He said that many shopkeepers had obtained stay orders from the courts and so the LDA was negotiating with them. “Many have agreed to the shift and to take money as per the rate of the land. When the stay orders are vacated they will have to move. I think most of them will move without resistance since the LDA is paying them for their land,” he said.