LAHORE: The district government’s anti-encroachment drive has entered its fourth day but most town officials claim that several members of the provincial assembly (MPAs) are not cooperating with them.

The government had deputed 10 MPAs to coordinate with traders before the operation began.

The MPAs were meant to monitor and handle the situation if the administration faced resistance on the street. Out of these nine MPA’s were assigned to coordinate with the nine town administrations, the tenth was to deal with the Lahore Development Authority (LDA). The MPAs on the list were Mian Hafiz Nauman deputed in Samanabad Town, Khwaja Imran Nazir, in Data Gunj Baksh Town, Naveed Anjum, in Aziz Bhatti Town, Chauhadry Shahbaz, in Shalimar Town, Saiful Mulook, in Allama Iqbal Town, Rana Tajammul, in Wagha Town, Mohsin Latif, in Gulburg Town, Khwaja Salman Rafique, in Ravi Town, Mian Naseer in Nishter Town and Mehr Ishtiaq with the LDA.

According to city government officials most of the MPAs have not participated in the anti-encroachment drive. Town officials said that some politicians were coordinating with them but even their participation was limited to formal meetings. “The deputed MPAs have not really shown much interest in the operation especially after the affected people started protesting,” the traders said.

The encroachment clearing teams of different administrations have been facing strong resistance in some areas but no political official has been at any of these sites. Ichhra Bazaar shopkeeper Muhammad Arif said “The politicians fear the public’s anger. They will lose votes, especially trader’s votes, if they are seen supporting this operation.” Arif said that the MPAs had only held a few meetings with traders’ leaders affiliated with their party.

Many of the market union leaders who have tried, have failed to convince others to vacate the land voluntarily. Arif said that traders were usually seen chanting slogans against the Punjab government during protests. “They make it a point to target the MPA of their area. Part of my shop was demolished and when I tried to contact the MPA he refused to speak to me,” Arif said.

A town official told The Express Tribune that whenever such an operation was launched against encroachers, politicians faced a lot of resentment from the traders.

“All the politicians who pressurised us in the past are quiet now. They fear that showing their support for the encroachers will end in the CM overruling them,” he said.

“Many of the politicians were local councillors before they were elected as MPAs in the last elections. They don’t have the courage to speak to the CM in favour of the encroachers,” he said, adding “so they have gone into hiding”. “Their silence is making it easier for us” he added.

“I am not required to be on location. I am kept informed about the status of the operation and I am overseeing everything,” MPA Naveed Anjum deputed in Aziz Bhatti Town said. When asked to respond to town officials’ claims regarding his absence, Anjum said “I could care less about their statements. I am doing my job.”

MPA Khawaja Salman Rafique, deputed in Ravi Town, said “We are facing tremendous public pressure. Walled City is the most encroached area and it isn’t easy to take back the land from people who have held it for years,” he said. When asked about his absence during operations, Rafique refused to comment. “I have already held meetings with traders and I am kept abreast of any new developments,” he said.
“I do not fear losing votes. If anything our vote bank will expand after this campaign,” he added.

MPA Mian Naseer, deputed in Nishtar Town, said “I don’t want to be an MPA the next time there is such an operation. I am already resigned to losing the next elections because of the encroachment issue. The government is being unreasonable.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2011.