LAHORE: The Punjab government identified “gross negligence, lack of coordination and team work as well as risk assessment” as the reasons leading to the deaths of stranded tourists in Murree on Jan 8, and suspended the entire chain of command, including the Rawalpindi division commissioner, for failing to prevent the tragedy.
The lapses that led to the 23 deaths have been identified by a high-powered five-member committee, led by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Zafar Nasrullah. A four-volume inquiry report as well as a shorter version was presented to the chief minister at his office on Wednesday evening.
Soon afterwards, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar addressed a news conference that lasted a little over two minutes with no reporters in attendance, and asserted that the complete chain of command of Rawalpindi division failed to perform its duties and was unable to identify the looming risk.
On the recommendations of the inquiry committee, the CM said 15 officials were suspended and disciplinary action was being taken against them. Those suspended included Rawalpindi Commissioner Gulzar Husain Shah, Deputy Commissioner (DC) Muhammad Ali, Murree Assistant Commissioner Umer Maqbool, Rawalpindi City Police Officer (CPO) Sajid Kiyani and Murree Assistant Superintendent of Police Ahmad Shah. Their services have been surrendered to the federal government on administrative grounds and strict disciplinary action recommended.
Buzdar takes action after inquiry body holds them responsible
The chief minister also announced the suspension of and disciplinary action against the Rawalpindi chief traffic officer, traffic deputy superintendent of police, Rawalpindi highways circle-II sub-engineer, Rawalpindi executive engineer (EXEN), highways (mechanical) EXEN, highways (mechanical) sub-divisional officer, Murree divisional forest officer, Murree district emergency officer, Murree Rescue 1122 in-charge and Punjab PDMA director.
“I have fulfilled my promise of holding a fair and transparent inquiry into the Murree tragedy and taking action against all those whose negligence led to the death of 23 people who were compelled to confine themselves in their vehicles as heavy snow fell on the night of Jan 7,” the chief minister said.
Mr Buzdar, flanked by Law Minister Basharat Raja and Special Assistant to the Chief Minister Hasaan Khawar, said he had personally visited Murree to ascertain the tragic situation created in the hill station.
Sources said the detailed version of the report included statements of the victims’ relatives, stranded passengers, civil administration officers and locals. The inquiry committee found a lack of coordination of any sort ahead of the catastrophe as well as all through the biting cold night and the next day.
“There was no teamwork even during the rescue operation of those stranded in their vehicles as only individual-level efforts were reported,” they said.
The sources said the civil administration had neither conducted risk assessment nor followed any standard operating procedures prescribed for emergency situations. The inquiry committee reported that the snow-clearing machinery was not strategically located and, adding insult to the injury, most of the machinery was out of order.
Ahead of the crisis, the sources said, there was also a complete disregard for traffic management as thousands of vehicles were allowed to enter the relatively small hill station in the wake of harsh weather forecasts. There was no proper intimation to tourists about the harsh weather at the toll plazas, some 17 miles down the hill.
Sources said there was no additional traffic police deployed to manage the extraordinary rush of people during peak snowfall season.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government immediately posted a new Rawalpindi commissioner, DC and CPO to replace the officers transferred on administrative grounds. Youth Affairs and Sports Secretary Noorul Amin Mengal was posted as the commissioner in his own pay and scale; Sialkot DC retired Flt Lt Tahir Farooq as the Rawalpindi DC; and Rawalpindi Regional Police Officer Ashfaq Ahmad Khan has been assigned the additional charge of the CPO till the posting of a regular incumbent.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2022