LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC), Rawalpindi bench, has summoned the Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) director, the commissioner and deputy of Rawalpindi and others along with reports on the reasons that led to the Murree snowstorm tragedy in which 23 people had died.

Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz issued the order during Thursday’s hearing on a public interest petition filed by citizens, Rizwan Elahi and others.

The petitioners’ counsel, Fahad Shabbir, argued that the innocent citizens had lost lives in the disaster due to indifference of the public functionaries. He said the hotel owners had also taken advantage of the situation and exploited the public by charging exorbitant rates for accommodation and food.

The counsel argued that a huge budget was allocated to different departments for smooth management of tourists and tourism in Murree but no step, even frail in nature, was taken to address the miseries of the people stranded in the snowstorm on the eventful night. He said the negligence shown by the respondents not only violated the constitutional rights of the petitioners but also gave rise to a tragedy for which the nation was still mourning. He said the respondents were responsible to manage the traffic flow in Murree and to monitor overpricing of the hotels and other facilities.

Asked about the maintainability of the petition, the counsel relied upon the judgments that previously held that public interest litigation was a powerful tool for individuals and groups for combating illegalities, injustice and social ills.

In his written order, the judge said the contention raised by the counsel needed consideration.

The judge issued notices to the Rawalpindi commissioner, deputy commissioner, regional police officer (RPO), chief traffic officer (CTO), price control magistrate of Murree, provincial secretary ministry of tourism and the PDMA director for their personal appearance.

The judge also sought the appearance of the representatives of the Murree Hotel Owners Association.

The respondents have been directed to submit their replies on the reasons behind the Murree catastrophe and the steps to be taken for avoiding such incidents in the future. The next hearing would be held on Jan 19.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2022

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