Murree tragedy- the way forward is accountability

Fixing the responsibility and punishing those responsible is imperative if such occurrences are to be avoided in the future.

Government has constituted a four -member committee to ascertain the factors behind the unfortunate happening. Will the state turn the corner? Just wait and watch.

Nazeer Ahmed Arijo

Tears keep trickling down Pakistan’s cheeks over Murree tragedy. Death put its icy hands on the snow-fall lovers -men, women and children who were stranded in their vehicles ultimately frozen to death. Every tragedy brings in its wake a grim reminder that we are a fractured nation. Unprofessionalism, institutional incompetence, poor infrastructural facilities; lack of crises management and lack of inter-institutional co-ordination made avoidable catastrophe the unavoidable. Loss of 23 lives awoke the government from deep slumber once the stories of ordeal by those trapped in their vehicles were uploaded on social media .Thus, it was the various videos highlighting helplessness, shortage of food, fuel and much -needed comforting stuff like blankets going viral that captured national attention to execute rescue operation subsequently pouring in of Pak-Army, Rangers, Civil Administration, NGOs etc. As per the preliminary report submitted to the CM Punjab, negligence of warning of heavy snowfall/ snowstorm given by the Met office and subsequent failure in terms of streamlining precautionary measures by the local administration; the roads have not been repaired since last two years; the felling down of trees; of the 29 snow ploughs stationed in Murree, 20 remained idle during the weekend blizzard that killed 23 tourists; load-shedding  of electricity in the area in question are some of the issues that shaped the tragedy. Also, power outages in various hotels in tourist resort being discussed left the people with no option but with many deciding to sit in their vehicles. The worst traffic jam and load-shedding hampered the rescue operation.

Apparently, ill-fated tourists succumbed to death due to inhaling of carbon monoxide gas. The pattern cultivated over the years is that after every tragedy, successive governments come up wailing their chests over loss  of human lives and consequently waking up to much-needed reforms and instantly announcing monetary package for the bereaved families. As it happened on the heels of Murree tragedy, the Punjab CM Sardar Usman Bozdar announced to give Murree a status of a district and additional placement of DC and DPO. The CM also has made plans of making long due infrastructural improvement like the repairing of roads and constructing link roads.  However, the tragic time in Murree has left many questions to answer. Questions that arise are: Why there was no any co-ordination between the provincial government and local administrative structures after the warning of heavy snowfall was given by the MET office? Where were the Police? Where were the both National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and Punjab’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA)? Where was Emergency Medical Care System etc.?  Why were vehicles allowed as high as 130,000 when there was a capacity for around 35000? Under harsh weather conditions, the prescribed pattern applied all over the world is that of closing of motor ways, creating public awareness booths at tool check posts in terms of warning the tourists and travelers of imminent danger. The Federal Interior minister Shaikh Rasheed had prided on the entry of such a large number of vehicles simultaneously on unprecedented pouring in of tourists to tourist resort. Shortly, heart-breaking stories of those trapped in snow evaporated euphoria. None paid attention towards the looming danger in the face of frosty weather that resulted in allowing vehicles beyond the capacity. Reportedly, Murree had received such a downpour of snowfall in the past, but the coming of vehicles much beyond the capacity shaped the tragedy.Humanity kept weeping on the roads of Murree under the heavy weight of greed.

While those trapped in frosty weather were desperate to receive help, the locals became stony-heart demanding thousands of rupees for pushing up vehicles that came to halt. Normally, three to four hundred rupees are said to have been taken by the helpers rendering such a service. Whereas the hotel and restaurants doubled their charges for food served and rooms rented. Fifteen hotels have been sealed in Murree for over the charges of overcharging the tourists. Thus, it has confirmed the reality that those at helm of businesses at tourist spots put their petty profits before human sufferings in such circumstances elaborated above. We have become people ready to mint money especially fleecing those touring and travelling. Besides, sale of sub-standard items and sometimes serving stale food are reported in national newspapers times and again. But, all such complaints usually fall on the deaf ears. During vacations, when people throng at touring sites with their families, they experience monkey business at the hands of those doing businesses there. Under such circumstances, people with deep pockets have the luxury of touring and travelling. The vast majority only opt to travelling in times of necessary practical-life engagements. Following profiteering of businessmen at sites in question, the people with low income even can’t imagine of visiting such natural scenes like that of Murree and other such tourist areas. I have experienced that the prices of various food items being doubled at stopover hotels and restaurants during my journey from and to Larkana and Karachi. Recently, I travelled with my son who had wished to eat chicken in lunch. Surprisingly, a plate of chicken quorma was being sold at Rs.400 – a price doubled at stopover hotels along the National Highway. This ugly practice of fleecing public is common all over the country as the relevant authorities entrusted with ensuring fair price are allegedly in collusion with cruel profiteers hence the crackdown against hotels involved in unscrupulous business be widened beyond Murree against hotels operating along the Motorways and the National Highways etc. all over the country. The tourist havens should not be sanctuaries for petty profiteers. We also see that corruption mafia continues to extract extra money from buyers and those traveling to nook and corner of the country following Eid festivities. The surge in supply is synonymous with price-hike in Pakistan and it goes unabated. Things were not different during previous PPP and PMLN governments suggesting their inability to rein in exploiters.

It is disappointing to note the petty politics that we came across with the opposition politicians directing their guns against the PTI-led government over its failure to handle the crises in Murree. Using human tragedy as an opportunity for political –point scoring is an undemocratic exercise. The institutional paralysis that we witnessed in Murree can never be thrown at the door of the incumbent government only. Successive governments are also naked in this bath called institutional incompetence. It is result of decades-long bad governance and imprudent policies pursued by mainstream political parties during their stints in power. We have reached this institutional dysfunctionality due to historical hypocrisy, lip service, nepotism, cronyism and patronage to cruel capitalists’ ugly scheme of making money. This has pervaded in power corridors under regimes of other political parties too. Nosediving state institutions like the PIA and Pakistan Steels Mills do remind the opposition their failure to bring the enterprises back on their track during their respective government. Had any mainstream opposition political party in power, the result would have been the same in Murree. This is the high time for national political parties to put their heads together to cultivate a culture of taking the responsibility and owning their policies and pitfalls. After having come under fire for institutional incompetence, the government has constituted a four -member committee to ascertain the factors behind the unfortunate happening and shine light on faces whose unprofessional handling of the matter aggravated the situation. Fixing the responsibility and punishing those responsible is imperative if such occurrences are to be avoided in the future. Unfortunately, we are known for having a poor record of taking people to task for their supposed sleeping during crises when they are duty bound to be wakeful in every context. The problem is that the top slots of countless institutions are occupied by influential individuals. When it comes to holding those found guilty ,the established political order leaves no stone unturned to save their skins .As a result, vague findings are the ultimate outcome of various inquiries or faced with public fury, sometimes, the soft target-low cadre employees are chosen to be penalized in order to assuage public anger. Tightening the noose on the low-hanging fruit will bear no fruit in foreseeable future with regard to building a dam against looming danger like that of Murree. PTI led government’s dream of attracting international tourists will remain a pipe-dream until and unless the status quo is wiped out altogether from the pure land of Pakistan. The Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Attahar Minallah has called the state to be in complicit in Murree tragedy because of institutional failure to act swiftly.

Will the state turn the corner? Just wait and watch.

Nazeer Ahmed Arijo

Nazeer Ahmed Arijo, an educationist and a freelance contributor. He can be accessed at email:
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