Lahore: Encroachments: Bulldozers begin clearing Sattukatla drain
LAHORE: After three years of preparations, the city government on Thursday finally began demolishing 55 illegal house structures choking up Sattukatla drain near the Kot Lakhpat fruit and vegetable market.
City government officials said that the operation was necessary to expand the drain’s capacity ahead of the upcoming monsoon season and they had been warning residents for months to move out. They said it would take about two days.
But the residents of the area, most of whom are Christians, protested and blocked Ferozepur Road, complaining that the poor were being targeted for the benefit of residents of upper class areas. The police dispersed their protest with a baton charge.
The Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) had declared the area dangerous during the monsoons and requested the city government to clear the illegal houses built in the drain that had reduced its width from 40 feet to 14 feet. This put the area at risk of flooding during heavy rain, and also resulted in the accumulation of rain water in other areas including Gulberg.
In the first phase, the administration is clearing a five-foot corridor of encroachments on the side of the drain next to the fruit and vegetable market. It will then clear another 10-foot section, by buying the land from the residents.
Gulberg town and revenue department staff reached the site with heavy machinery early on Thursday morning, but didn’t start the work till around 11am. Once the operation began, the residents tried to resist it and then staged a protest on Ferozepur Road.
They blocked the road for half an hour with burning tyres and chanted slogans condemning the city administration and the provincial government. A heavy police contingent cleared the road by charging the protesters with batons.
Some protesters claimed that they had not been given any time to vacate the area. “I have been living here since 1995 and I pay my taxes and utility bills regularly,” said Liaqat Bhatti. He claimed to have a purchase deed for the land registered with the Revenue Department.
Another protester, Sunil Naseem, admitted that they had encroached on land to expand their homes. He said that the encroachments were built decades ago. “It’s not so easy for us to just vacate the place at once. We tried to reach the higher authorities but no one listened to us. We are now only asking for some time so we can demolish the structures ourselves but they are not listening to us,” he said.
Gulburg Town Officer (Regulation) Faisal Shahzad said that the city government could not give them any time because they then might go to the courts to get a stay order. “The operation was not started overnight. We have been trying to vacate the area for years. Our town started a special campaign three months ago asking the encroachers to leave voluntarily. A camp was set up in the area a couple of months earlier distributing special pamphlets and making regular announcements on loudspeakers to kindly vacate the encroached areas. Claims they were not given time are just not true,” Shahzad said.
He also rejected the protesters’ claim that they paid taxes and had titles to the land registered, saying that the official record showed the land had been acquired by the government in 1965. He said that the encroachments had been “allowed by negligent officers”. He estimated that the operation would take another two days to complete.