Committee visits Murree today to begin probe into tragedy

Published January 12, 2022
A vehicle is pictured after getting stuck in snow along a road after a heavy snowfall in Murree on January 8. — AFP
A vehicle is pictured after getting stuck in snow along a road after a heavy snowfall in Murree on January 8. — AFP
  • Heads of various depts to be asked about measures taken to keep roads open, official says
  • Police register case against group of people for causing loss of money to tourists, blocking their movement
  • Chief secretary visits Murree, reviews arrangements for clearing snow, maintaining traffic

RAWALPINDI: The five-member committee formed to probe the Murree tragedy will visit the hill station on Wednesday (today) to determine the causes and lapses that led to the deaths of over 20 stranded tourists.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had ordered constitution of the committee on Jan 9 and asked it to complete the investigation within seven days.

Headed by Additional Chief Secretary Home Zafar Nasarullah, the other members are Punjab Food Secretary Ali Sarfraz, Agriculture Secretary Asad Gillani and Additional Inspector General of Police Farooq Mazhar. Another member for coordination is yet to be nominated.

“The government has provided 29 heavy mechanical vehicles, blowers and salt to the Highway Mechanical Division which is tasked with clearing snow from roads in Murree, but these vehicles are not seen on roads during heavy snow,” a senior official of the district administration told Dawn. The committee has therefore summoned the department head, he added.

The official said the committee would also investigate hiring of daily-wage workers by the Highway Mechanical Division in November to clear snow.

Read more: Opposition in Senate slams govt for ‘criminal negligence’ in handling Murree tragedy

The tourism department, which also has the responsibility of managing the hill station, would be asked about the measures it had taken to handle the influx of tourists, he said, adding that apart from this, the committee would record statements of Commissioner Syed Gulzar Hussain Shah, Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Ali, Assistant Commissioner Murree Mohammad Omer Maqbool and City Police Officer Sajid Kiani.

Another official of the Punjab government said the government would also record statements of tourists in Murree about the exorbitant rates charged by hotel owners as well as other issues.

When told that many tourists had already left the hill station, the official said the committee had made social media posts and video clips part of the evidence.

“There is no law in Punjab to protect tourists’ rights and three bills - Punjab Hotels and Restaurants Act, Travel Agencies Act and Tourist Guide Act — presented in the provincial assembly in April are still pending,” the official said.

He said tourism was handed over to provinces after the 18th Amendment but the Punjab government failed to devise any policy regarding it. In Murree, there are over 260 hotels but only a few are registered, and there is no authority that regulates them.

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal on Tuesday visited Murree and reviewed arrangements for clearing snow and maintaining traffic on Lower Topa-Jhika Gali, Kuldana and other roads.

He directed that in case of heavy snowfall, places for the stay of tourists should be identified and asked the officers to set up three checkposts at the entry points of Murree. He also directed the officers to stop entry of vehicles once a fixed number of vehicles had entered.

On the other hand, a district administration spokesman said they had decided to distribute 1,100 bags of food items weighing 20kg each among the residents of Murree to overcome food shortage due to closure of roads.

Also read: District admin seals 15 hotels in Murree for overcharging

He said from Jan 7 to 11, the administration distributed 9,800 food packets, 650 blankets and 9,500 packets of dry fruits among tourists. The administration also started a survey of the hill station and adjoining villages to check whether the residents were facing shortage of food items.

Furthermore, the Islamabad Electricity Supply Company (Iesco) claimed to have restored power supply in 90pc of the area in Murree.

Iesco’s power distribution system was badly affected due to the snowfall and stormy weather in and around Murree, Nathiagali, Patriata and Jhika Gali.

Under the supervision of Iesco Chief Executive Dr Mohammad Amjad Khan, different teams worked to restore the system in spite of bad weather and traffic jams, the statement said.

Case registered

Police have registered a case against a group of people in Murree on charges of causing loss of money to tourists and blocking their movement.

Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Mohammad Ramzan registered an FIR with the Murree police, stating that he along with his subordinates was on duty in the bazaar at about 6:30pm on Monday when he received information that some locals riding a jeep had blocked Bhurban Road with snow in front of a hotel.

He said as the tourists’ vehicles got stuck in the snow in front of the hotel, these individuals towed the cars through and charged each driver Rs4,000 to Rs5,000.

“Following the information, the police reached the spot and saw the road blocked with ice, causing traffic congestion,” the ASI said, adding that these persons had committed a crime by depriving tourists of their money and disrupting traffic by blocking the road.

Several complaints about overcharging for hotel rooms, food items and heating equipment had come to light during the recent snowstorm but no action has been taken by the district administration so far.— Mohammad Asghar also contributed to this story

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022

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