Bank beats journalists black and blue
By Munawer Azeem and Kalbe Ali
ISLAMABAD: The premises of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) in the capital witnessed high drama on Wednesday as its zealous security team took on the officials of Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and journalists. Scuffles, fights and allegations and counter-allegations were the order of the afternoon — at the bank and at a police station later.
The `excitement` began in the afternoon when an EOBI team, led by Deputy Director Zulfiqar Ali Grewal, arrived at the ZTBL head office at Zero Point. He carried a warrant to seal the `property` of the bank for not clearing dues Ã¢â‚¬“Rs85.40 million Ã¢â‚¬“ owed to EOBI. The team included six assistant directors of the EOBI, including Tariq Mehmood along with their lawyer, Khurrum Mehmood Qureshi and a bailiff.
Issued by the assistant collector EOBI under Land Revenue Act 1969, Section 83, the warrant entitled the EOBI to seal moveable property and was issued against ZTBL`s president Zaka Ashraf.
The `raiders` of the old employees were accompanied by journalists who had been informed about the raid. Journalists and cameramen Ã¢â‚¬“ Samar Abbas and Asif Mirza of DawnNews and Waseem Abbas and Zyafat Abbasi of Sama TV respectively Ã¢â‚¬“ entered ZTBL`s headquarter along with the EOBI team and were taken to the room of Security Officer Col (retired) Manzoor Ahmed Qazi.
“The security in-charge told us to wait there,” said Zulfiqar Ali Grewal. He explained that ZTBL had not paid up since 2008 and the EOBI people had the documents to seal a `property` of the bank. A symbolic gesture, the EOBI`s plan was to seal the managing director`s office or that of any senior official.
However, the officials of EOBI, the bailiff and the lawyer ended up meeting Senior Vice President ZTBL Masood Khan in the security officer`s room. Once he was served the warrant, Khan claimed that it was not valid.
At this point, the lawyer and Khan had a heated exchange as the former tried to get the warrant back from the latter`s possession.
According to the EOBI team, the bank`s security personnel who were present sprung into action as attention focused on the news channel crews who were filming the episode. As the bank employees tried to stop the filming, the EOBI officials, the bailiff, the lawyer and the journalists were attacked.
According to the visitors to the bank, the ZTBL staff kicked and punched them, tearing their clothes in the process. All of them, including the journalists, were detained in the security officer`s room and threatened.
After a while, a senior officer of ZTBL asked the detainees to accompany him to his office. However, on the way, the journalists used their cellphones to call their newsrooms and even contact the police for assistance.
This proved to be the proverbial red flag for a staff that was still enraged apparently. Not only did the ZTBL staff snatch the journalists` cellphones, they also demanded that the news channel air the bank`s denial of the news that its employees had thrashed the raiding team and members of the media.
Soon journalists from various organisations gathered outside to protest the detention of their colleagues. The nervous security team locked all the gates to prevent the protesters from entering.
Next on the scene was Subdivisional Officer City Circle Faisal Bashir Memon who was accompanied by others including SHO Haq Nawaz Ranjah. However, they too were not allowed to enter and had to seek the help of Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Ali Randhwa.
After an hour long negotiations, the police officers were able to secure the release of the detained people as well as arrest five to seven security staff members and the members of the ZTBL union.
As the arrested people were shifted to the Aabpara police station, the journalists followed them, demanding harsher measures against the bank.
Inevitably, a scuffle broke out between the excited journalists and the police. Cameras were used as weapons (at least one was) as the police brandished their trusted batons. To add to the confusion, federal minister for information and broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan also arrived at the spot.
By that time, however, Sadaqat Ali of Sama TV was wounded in his head as other also suffered injuries.
Incidentally, all the accused in police custody are retired army officers: Brig. (retired) Anjum Saeed Akhtar, managing director, Kissan Support Services Limited, a subsidiary of the ZTBL; Col. (retired) Mansoor Ahmed Qazi, incharge of security; and Maj (retired) Mohammad Masood, head of the law department.
Lawyer Qureshi told Dawn that Assistant Director Mehmood lodged a complaint with Aabpara police station. The journalists have registered a separate complaint.
While the police have promised an inquiry into the incidents, ZTBL has also condemned the incident and suspended Col (retired) Mansoor Qazi.
“The president of the bank has condemned the incident and we can assure that all the culprits will be taken to the task,” said Israr Kisana, ZTBL media chief.
The interior minister has also announced a judicial commission that is to finalise a report within 24 hours.