LAHORE - Scorching heat, dug-up roads, and protest demonstrations are badly hitting motorists in Lahore, where vehicular traffic moves bumper-to-bumper these days.

Hundreds of traffic wardens are seen struggling on city roads to manage the snarl-ups manually. The roadblocks in certain areas quickly disrupt the flow of traffic in others parts of the metropolis.

Authorities believe the bumpy ride along dug-up roads would continue for years in the city since the multi-billion metro train project is under construction, and “is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.”

Lahore’s main artery, The Mall, has become the most suitable place for protesters. People from all over the province prefer to stage sit-ins and protest demonstrations in the metropolis to get noticed. Such everyday demonstrations are causing huge losses to businesses, local traders say.

Farmers, workers, and government employees frequently throng to the capital from other districts to get their protest registered. Faisal Chowk on The Mall, Lahore Press Club, Liberty Market roundabout, Shahdara More, Kahna bust-stop, and the Thokar Niaz Baig are the key spots which are regularly occupied by the agitators.

The police have to play the role of a “silent spectator” due to one or the other reason. As protesters defy the ban on The Mall, the government and the police have to negotiate with them for several days to get the roads cleared.

Many parts of the provincial metropolis witnessed worst traffic mess as police blocked several busy roads after hundreds of protesting farmers rallied on The Mall during last month. The farmers continue sit-in out the Punjab Assembly building for days. As the growers called off the protest and left the site, dozens of protesting nurses reached there and took over the mall. The Faisal Chowk is blocked for traffic for the last three days due to the protests.

After the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, traders had to shut their businesses for days as club-wielding religious activists marched on The Mall.

When The Mall is blocked, the wardens divert the traffic to alternative routes. The practice causes worst traffic jumbles in the areas of Civil Lines, Garhi Shahu, Racecourse, Qila Gujjar Singh, Lower Mall, Samanabad, Lytton Road, and Lower Mall, and Mozang. Also, commuters on Ferozpur Road, Jail Road, Canal Road, and Davis Road are got stuck in the traffic mess.

“Traders heave a sigh of relief when police clear the movement of traffic. Customers don’t visit shopping malls amid traffic mess,” said Ahmed Khan, who runs a garments shop on the Mall road. He said that everyday protests were causing huge losses to the businesses.

In July 2011, Mall Road Trade Union Association had filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court seeking directions to authorities concerned against the protest demonstrations on The Mall. They had pleaded that owing to protests on The Mall, the traders had been facing losses of millions of rupees on a daily basis.

Later, the Punjab government had told the LHC that a ban had been imposed on taking out rallies on The Mall with effect from July 1, 2011. On Aug 11, the then Punjab Chief Secretary Nasir Mehmood Khosa admitted in the Lahore High Court that the government had failed to implement a ban on rallies and processions on The Mall.

Khosa had appeared before the then Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, and stated that the government was trying to furnish practical suggestions acceptable to all stakeholders. He said everybody had freedom of expression and the government did not want to make a law conflicting with peoples’ fundamental rights.

The shopkeepers at The Mall, where several leading shopping centers are located, are still struggling to force the authorities to a slap a ban on such protests. “Some 10 to 20 people create miseries for a great number of road users and businesses by blocking roads on a daily basis in Lahore. The authorities must wake up to the situation and save the precious time of motorists,” he said.

“Where are the government and the police? Should the traders also start protests against the protesters,” asked Nadeem Khan, a salesman in the Panorama center.

The PML-N activists had occupied The Mall and continued their protests for several days after President Asif Ali Zardari had imposed Governor Rule in the Punjab Province in February, 2009. So, the rulers are unable to stop protests because of political backlash.

Under present circumstances, the government is planning to raise an anti-riot force for the metropolis where police have to handle 10-15 “law and order like situations” on a daily basis. The special police unit, a replica of the Istanbul’s Riot Police Unit, will be made operational in August.

A police spokeswoman said that the anti-riot force unit and the mounted police would definitely help police control mobs and agitators.

According to government officials, the political leadership has to decide whether force should be used against the protesters or not. A police officer while requesting anonymity said that they could not take strict action against the protesters because of media crews. “We don’t want to create anti-police headlines in the media by using force on the agitators. The police have the capacity to implement the government orders. But the government has to decide how the protesters should be treated,” the officer suggested.