LAHORE: Protests and wrangles between traders and the district government are becoming routine during the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) and with Lahore Development Authority (LDA) anti-encroachment drive. Traders are also claiming that the drive is biased and certain segments are being targeted more heavily.

Protests have been observed in several towns during the anti-encroachment campaign, however, major scuffles were witnessed in localities where traders’ unions were strong. Nila Gumbad, Urdu Bazaar, Garhi Shahu, Model Town Link Road and Liberty market are some of the areas where the anti-encroachment drive has faced severe resistance. Several Liberty Market traders The Express Tribunetalked to claimed that the LDA and CDGL had adopted a biased policy which was being employed to target PPP supporters.

Qaumi Tajir Ittehad (affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)) vice president Haji Nawaz said that if the government was determined to remove encroachments then the policy should apply equally to all. “The operation needs to be about targeting people who are breaking the law not political rivals of those in government,” he said. Nawaz said that traders affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were being spared in the anti-encroachment drive and that traders affiliated with other parties were being targeted. “Nepotism by the provincial government will lead to more protests and possibly even riots,” he said.

“It is true, there definitely are incidents of nepotism,” said Liberty Market Traders’ Association chairperson Safdar Ali Butt, who is affiliated with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). “The LDA and the CDGL haven’t bothered to touch some of the stalls illegally set up in front of buildings and shops simply because they belong to PML-N supporters,” he said. “If the CDGL and LDA keep being partisan in their drive then we will be forced to launch a series of protests against the Punjab government,” he said.

Garhi Shahu Qaumi Tajir Ittehad president Mian Ijaz told the Express Tribune that the government was losing credibility by picking and choosing encroachments to remove. “In Garhi Shahu, most of the traders are quite poor. It is hard enough for them to make ends meet. It is unfair that the CDGL is targeting such people while completely ignoring wealthy plaza owners,” he said. “We appreciate the operation but not at the cost of our livelihood,” Ijaz said. “The government needs to give these people more time to look for other options before they just tear down their means of livelihood. If the PML-N wants to shape Lahore like Paris then they should work to strengthen the economy not cripple it,” he said. “We shouldn’t expect these people to stay silent and watch their means of income being taken away from them. Of course, they will fight,” Ijaz added.

Abdul Ghafoor, a citizen, said that “I appreciate the intent behind this operation but the CDGL needs to give the traders some margin. A better solution would have been to help them resettle or start other businesses before tearing these down.” “The economy is crumbling and it is nearly impossible to find jobs. This isn’t the time to be adding to unemployment. If the government is really serious then it should go after the ‘qabza mafias’ that encroach upon acres of land and profit from it rather than targeting small entrepreneurs struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

An LDA spokesperson said that the estate management department was conducting an operation against all encroachers. “The allegation that we are sparing some parties in the drive is false. Everyone is being dealt with equally,” he said, adding that the only time the CDGL had let people off was when there was threat of violence. “The protests have led to some incomplete operations but we will finish these as well,” he said.

Gulberg Town regulation officer Faisal Shehzad, who has faced a lot of resistance, said that the disputes started whenever they has attempted to clear off a building line from encroachers. Shahzad said “We will start an operation in Liberty from tomorrow.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2011.