Karachi police on Friday evening used water cannons and manhandled healthcare providers protesting on main Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road, detaining 25 including women.
Earlier today, the Grand Health Alliance (GHA) — a collective of healthcare workers campaigning for better working conditions — followed through with their threat of marching on the Sindh Chief Minister’s House after Friday prayers if the government failed to make the health risk allowance part of their salaries by noon.
The alliance had been holding a sit-in outside the Sindh Secretariat since Monday.
The protesters were stopped outside DJ Science College after Friday prayers by police who erected temporary barriers on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road. South SSP Syed Asad Raza had earlier told Us that negotiations were ongoing with the protesters.
But shortly before 5pm, footage on TV channels showed policemen manhandling the protesters and dragging them along the floor. Woman officers were also seen detaining female protesters.
SSP Raza later told Dawn.com that the Sindh government had issued a notification constituting a committee for holding talks with the protesters.
The officer said the officials showed the notification to the protesters and asked them to vacate the main artery.
“But the protesters rejected the notification and demanded the health minister personally visit them and assure them their demands will be accepted,” SSP Raza said.
He went on to say that the protesting doctors and paramedics had blocked the main road, causing trouble for commuters.
“As a result, police called in the riot squad which used water cannons to disperse them and detained 25 protesters, including 10 women,” he said.
SSP Raza said the female protesters would likely be released while the male protesters would be prosecuted under relevant laws. He also denied the claim that police resorted to baton-charging the doctors and paramedics.
He said that 11 female police officers were beaten and injured by the protesting nurses.
Meanwhile, Dr Faizan Memon of the Young Doctors Alliance told Dawn.com that the police officials had held talks with the protesters during which it was agreed that they would vacate the main road and resume their sit-in outside the Sindh Secretariat.
However, once we started moving towards Sindh Secretariat, the police reneged on the agreement and resorted to baton-charging and using water cannons against the protesters, Memon said.
He claimed that all of the alliance’s leaders had been taken into custody.
For his part, SSP Raza denied reaching any agreement with the protesters.
Further, the protesters said that if the leaders of their alliance were not released immediately, they would be compelled to expand the scope of their protest.
They announced that they would close all hospitals across Sindh if the detained doctors and paramedics were not released.
The HRCP condemned the “use of force against protesting health workers, incl. women, in Karachi” on Twitter.
It demanded their immediate release and called upon authorities to “heed their demand for a health risk allowance”.
A notification issued by Services Department, stated that a “grievance redressal committee” had been constituted.
The committee comprises the provincial ministers for information, local government, labour, and the finance and health secretaries.
“The committee will engage with GHA and will give recommendations to the government,” the notification said.
Last month, the health department had withdrawn the Covid-19 risk allowance on the grounds that the pandemic no longer posed a threat to the population.
Patients across Sindh continue to face difficulties as doctors, nurses and paramedics have boycotted all outpatient services except that of emergency care.
The protesters are demanding the restoration of the risk allowance implemented over two years ago when the pandemic had struck the country.
An amount of Rs17,000 was given to the healthcare providers from grade one to 16 whereas Rs35,000 to those above grade 16. It was discontinued in 2020 as well, but later was resumed following protests.
A few days back, the police had detained over a dozen healthcare workers trying to march towards the Chief Minister’s House.