LAHORE: An unbridled group of lawyers stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in Lahore on Wednesday to settle score with doctors in an ongoing face-off, resulting in the death of at least three patients, while the Punjab government acted as silent spectator in the brewing crisis waiting to boil down for the last three weeks.
According to independent sources, at least three patients including Gulshan Bibi and Muhammad Anwar died due to discontinuation of treatment during the scuffles and brawls as the lawyers attacked the country’s largest cardiac hospital in the country.
However, conflicting figures kept circulating as Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid confirmed the death of three patients while Grand Health Alliance (GHA) Chairman Dr Salman Haseeb Chaudhry claimed the death of 8 to 10 patients due to lawyers’ rowdyism and ransacking of life-saving equipment in the hospital which was turned into a battlefield, supposedly spared of violence even during war.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken notice of the attack and sought a report from the chief secretary and the IGP. Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who was attending some official engagement in Islamabad, immediately flew back to Lahore and ordered an impartial inquiry to identify the miscreants among the lawyers community to fix responsibility with full spectrum of law, ascertain the damage and ensure compensation to the loss of lives and public and private property.
The lawyers were brandishing weapons and committing aerial firing, which intimidated patients, their attendants, doctors, nurses and hospital staff. The entire government machinery and security apparatus were rendered dysfunctional as the lawyers freely implemented their agenda to destroy equipment including ventilators, oxygen supplying equipment, ransacked computers and furniture, brought down the main gate, broke windowpanes and over 100 vehicles parked in and outside the hospital.
GHA activists initially barred Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid from entering the hospital for failing to resolve the issue between the lawyers and the doctors in the hospital for the last three weeks. However, Dr Yasmin assured doctors, nurses and medical staff of government support in dispensation of justice against the lawyers for committing such dastardly act. “The Punjab government will try and ensure registration of an FIR under Section 302 to make an example of the miscreants in the interest of justice,” she assured doctors and hospital staff.
The witnesses told The News the lawyers forcibly removed oxygen masks of patients in the Emergency Ward and ICU/CCU units, forced doctors to stop operations midway that endangered the lives of serious cardiac patients. As the doctors, nurses, medical staff, visitors and patients were running to save their lives and locking themselves in various rooms, the police’s act of indiscriminate teargas shelling inside the hospital to disperse the violent lawyers made the matter worse for critical heart patients.
The violent lawyers torched a police vehicle under the influence of imaginary power intoxication. The lawyers displayed their audacity to break the law as they threatened to sprinkle petrol on a young passerby with an aim to burn him alive.
Meanwhile, the PML-N expressed shock at the incident and condemned the Punjab government for its failure to safeguard the public life and property even in the provincial capital. The PML-N Punjab Information secretary expressed shock and anger over Provincial Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan’s statement accusing the PML-N of fueling such violence, saying that the Punjab government has become a security risk for people and is hiding its inefficiency to ensure law and order in the province.
The PIC administration, doctors, medical staff, patients and visitors to the hospital have demanded stringent action against the unruly lawyers by registering cases under terrorism charges. “We demand immediate cancellation of the licenses of the violent lawyers and want their cases proceeded through military courts under terrorism charges,” said GHA Chairman Dr Salman Haseeb.
Meanwhile, the GHA announced holding three-day mourning over the tragic incident in solidarity with the deceased patients, while one of its groups known as Young Consultants Association (YCA) announced boycotting their services in hospitals until dispensation of justice.
While talking to The News, Secretary Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education (SHC&ME) Momin Agha said the department would take urgent measures to restore functioning of the hospital with immediate repair, restoration and replacement of equipment, computers, furniture and other paraphernalia to ensure provision of uninterrupted healthcare services to patients. He assured an impartial inquiry into the sad incident to fix responsibility and damage assessment with a view to compensating the loss of the public and private properties including bikes, cars and other vehicles.
Meanwhile, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the incident, saying that humanity was dehumanized and the law of the land was torn into pieces in Lahore. “Today’s horrible incident has brought shame for every Pakistani as I cannot find words to sufficiently condemn hooliganism whose cost had to be borne by patients,” said the PML-N president who put the responsibility on the Punjab government by saying that the incident showed the Punjab government’s failure. He demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident.
The Lahore police once again proved a total failure in countering the violent protesters. The officers preferred to stay back and played role of silent spectators. Action against police officers after the Model Town incident and in some other incidents in Islamabad and Lahore kept police officers away from becoming proactive in the recent tragedy.
Instead of tackling the situation, the Anti-Riots Force played havoc with the heart patients and their attendants by firing teargas shells. The police should have used water cannon to disperse the violent lawyers, but they preferred to use teargas shells. The presence of cops at the PIC gate and intelligence of the Lahore police could not play any role in controlling the situation before hand. The officers managing CCTV cameras of Safe City Authority also failed to alert the police force timely despite the fact that the lawyers reached the PIC in big groups from Lahore bar. A timely action and presence of police could have helped in stopping the entry of lawyers into the Emergency Ward, but the police became active after the lawyers had played havoc with the hospital.
Shelling coupled with lathi-charge forced the lawyers to flee the hospital and take shelter in the Gillani Park. The police chased them and arrested over 34 of them. Some of the police officers requesting anonymity said the police force is still not independent in taking action against violent protesters. They said the delay in the approval of action results in huge loss to human lives and properties.
Lawyers spread in the hospital in groups and started damaging cars parked outside the Emergency Ward, Administration Block, Nursing Hostel and Doctors Hostel. At least 15 cars were badly damaged. The windscreens and windows were shattered. The lawyers hit the cars and doctors with bricks and stones. They also set a police van on fire, parked on the Jail Road. A number of cops including an SHO also received minor injuries during the scuffle.
The lawyers didn’t stop here. A group resorted to aerial firing to create panic among road users and patient attendants. One of the attendants said the lawyers have themselves defaced law through their inhumane act. He said hospitals are not attacked even in the state of war in any country of the world, but the lawyers of Lahore have created history of brutality by ransacking Emergency Ward.
A video of the lawyers in which they hurled life threats to doctors before the attack had also gone viral. They were heard saying that they will do bypass of doctors and stents will be implanted in their hearts. A woman told The News there was hue and cry and lawyers were not caring about any patient. Her husband was in critical condition. She begged the lawyers to spare patients but they paid no heed to her request. Some of the paramedical staff shifted her husband and other patients of ICU to CCU-III. A group of lawyers also followed doctors at CCU-III and broke the glasses of Ultrasound Room.
The attendants also thrashed lawyers when they started manhandling lady doctors. The violent lawyers removed oxygen masks from the mouths of patients and pulled live-saving drips.
The incident created a severe traffic mess on the Jail Road, The Mall and the Canal Road for hours. The city traffic police started diverting traffic to alternative routes. The lawyers also thrashed citizens outside GPO after blocking the road for every kind of traffic. The traffic flow was also halted on the Ferozpur Road outside the General Hospital as the paramedical staff registered their protest against Wukla Gardi. The traffic police diverted vehicles coming from Gulberg towards The Mall and the Canal Road and from Shadman, they were diverted towards China Chowk and The Mall.
Shops, labs and food outlets on both sides of the Jail Road were closed. Keeping in view the uncontrollable situation, the Punjab government called in contingents of Punjab Rangers. The Rangers reached the hospital and patrolled the road.
A hospital peon, Yousaf, said he had not seen this kind of brutality in the past 15 years. He admitted that doctors also keep on protesting but they never close Emergency Ward and operation theaters. A pregnant woman was also pushed down by the lawyers while the coats of lady doctors were removed, he claimed.
Mohsin, the attendant of his father, said he requested an SHO to stop lawyers from hurting patients and their attendants by taking action against ‘terrorists’, but the SHO said he had not received orders from the SSP. He said the lawyers involved in this violent activity should be hanged openly so that nobody could dare doing so in the future.
CCPO Lahore Zulfiqar Hameed, DIG Operations Rai Babar Saeed, SSP Operations Naveed and SSP Investigations Zeeshan Ashgar visited the hospital with heavy contingents of police. Experts from the Forensic Science Agency reached the scene and collected evidence. Investigators recorded statements of eyewitnesses and made footages of the damaged properties. The police also took the record of CCTV cameras into custody for further investigations. No case was registered against the lawyers till late night.