ISLAMABAD – Apparently it was a land grabbing bid instead of any blasphemy instance that led to burning of helpless Christians’ homes, observed the Supreme Court on Monday as it directed the Punjab government to file reply tomorrow so the court could pass punitive orders against the negligent police officers.

Heading a three-judge bench hearing suo moto on the arson and plunder at Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area of Lahore, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry expressed deep concern over the police failure to protect the properties of the minority community from the wrath of an unruly mob.

The court asked the provincial government that why Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman report on Gojra incident was not made public and why the government did not implement the recommendations of the commission. The court asked why the government constitute commissions on various matters, if it was not interesting in their recommendations.

It also questioned that why the colony was evacuated by the police before this incident and why measures for the protection of Christian community were not taken, if the police was well aware of the threat. Advocate General Punjab Ashtar Ausaf and Acting Punjab IGP Khan Baig failed to satisfy the bench as to who ordered the evacuation and what was the motive behind it. The IGP said the arrangements of evacuation were made by local policemen, the area SP and SHO, in a bid to save the human lives.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said: “Whenever the minorities come under attack the pattern of Punjab Police had been inaction. It seems the state in Lahore is on retreat. Will the authorities retreat till they are pushed as far as Raiwind (the area where the ruling PML-N leadership have their residences)?” The inaction is a customary way of behaviour of the Punjab police on such occasions as they always have a delayed response, the CJ said, adding that timely steps could have saved the properties of the Christians.

“The residents themselves left their houses after the hysteria grew. As the news of blasphemy broke out on Thursday and Friday the Christians started leaving their homes”, said the acting IGP, who however could not tell who had asked the residents of Joseph Colony to evacuate.

“Why police failed to safeguard their houses and property after their evacuation. Why the instigators were not pinpointed and mob was not stopped from setting the houses ablaze after the blasphemy case was registered and the accused was arrested,” asked the chief justice from the IGP, who remained silent in response. The story of the FIR about blasphemy act is not convincing enough but the subsequent incidents are completely unbelievable, the CJP said as the police remained inactive to stop the instigators gathered at a nearby mosque after Friday prayers on March 8.

The chief justice said that the apparent reason for the arson does not seem to be blasphemy, rather the issue of land grabbing led to burning of the houses of helpless Christians living in the commercial area of the provincial capital. The court observed that evacuation of house by police lends credence to suspicions that it was in fact a case of land grabbing.

The court directed the Punjab government through its Advocate General to file comments in the case tomorrow (March13), so that the bench might pass an appropriate order against all the police officers concerned, including the Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The advocate general submitted a report saying the land measuring 20 kanal belonged to city district government Lahore and had not been allotted to anyone. According to the report, initial survey and follow up verification by committee completed for grant of 5 lakh compensation to each affected family. It said, “121 housing units including 7 shops and 255 affected families were verified by survey committee. Around 50 families have been given compensation cheques. Emergency has been invoked by provincial government and work awarded to approximately 20 contractors hired by provincial C& W department LDA. Nearly 150 people have been arrested by police.”