Murree Incident and Failure of State Institutions
THE Murree tragedy reflects yet another failure of district administration and disaster management authorities.
That’s not all, lack of preparation and negligence shown by government representatives can’t be ignored.
After tragic death of over two dozen tourists in Murree, Prime Minister of Pakistan initiated an inquiry to investigate who were responsible for this avoidable tragedy.
This inquiry shouldn’t only probe local administration but also include sitting MNA and MPA from the area.
I thought to pen down my personal opinion about Murree tragedy as I myself belong to Murree and such incident hurts the most when it happens in the area. I delayed writing about this incident to understand the facts and details first.
This tragedy not only left a question mark on the competency and operations of different departments involved but also caused damage to the reputation of a popular tourist destination.
Soon after the incident, videos of dead bodies inside the snow covered vehicles went viral on social media and widespread discussions started ranging from blaming PTI government to the local people of Murree.
These videos alerted local administration and government representatives to activate and take action to rescue tourists stranded in heavy snow. But it was already quite late as dozens of tourists died at night while sleeping in the cars.
Most of the deaths were due to cold and carbon monoxide and this is very much avoidable if suitable guidance is provided to tourists and immediate rescue operation is done.
Local administration is well aware of the snowfall situation and capacity to manage tourists but they failed to control the influx of tourists right from the 17 Mile Toll Plaza.
A similar approach could have been adopted which was implemented during the covid lockdown situation.
Similarly, snowfall which caused deaths was in a dense jungle area very close to army units and if Pakistan army was informed or asked for help at night this incident could have been avoided.
Furthermore, if heavy machinery couldn’t reach the location due to closed roads then manpower could reach the incident site and rescue stranded tourists.
But the highly irresponsible and incompetent response by the local administration has caused deaths and defamed a popular tourist destination.
Another matter which surfaced and irked the people about this incident was allegations on hospitality industry where hotels in the area asked for unaffordable rentals which caused tourists to sleep in their cars and remain outside in the cold.
This unethical and defaming attitude by the hotel owners has caused a unacceptable damage to local people of Murree.
Social media campaigns such as boycott Murree started soon after this incident and social media user started to blame local people of Murree for this incident.
But the matter of fact is that more or less 80% of the hotels are owned by outsiders and not by local residents.
While I am writing this article, I got news that upto 15 hotels have been sealed and inquiry has been started against them as soon the local administration started getting complaints.
Such campaigns are hurting sentiments of local people from Murree who are also feeling sorry for this incident.
People of Murree can’t be blamed as a whole, just in the hands of a few culprits who are involved in illegal and immoral activities.
Law enforcement agencies, local administration has to take required actions to stop such incidents which ultimately result in anti-Murree campaigns and hurt the sentiments of local people.
I being from Murree felt sorry and ashamed after this event and likewise other people of Murree shown their concerns over incompetent administration and mafia involved in this incident.
Local people of Murree stood on high moral grounds and moved to the places where tourists were stuck in heavy snow. They not only provided them food and shelter but also helped them safely move back to Islamabad. Those who helped and did rescue on their own without any resources must be acknowledged.
Many local political organizations also carried out rescue and assistance operation such as Al-Khidmat Foundation helped a large number of people by providing them necessary food items to survive.
It is also pertinent to mention the efforts made by Murree Development Forum as they reached the incident place and helped large number of stranded tourists.
They were involved in all rescue operations and managed to help people with all possible means.
They also issued a detailed whitepaper of the incident and mentioned all the responsible departments including local administration particularly Assistant Commissioner Office, Highway Authority, Forest Department, National Disaster Management Authority, City Traffic Police, WAPDA, TMA, Rescue 1122 and other law enforcement agencies. They have pointed out loopholes and incompetence shown by these departments.
They also pointed various mafias involved along side in causing this incident and more prominently caused damage to the popularity of Murree by hurting sentiments of tourists and locals as well.
This incident is a wake up call for the local administration and the government to take action in order to control and regulate the tourism industry in Murree.
Although Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar visited Murree and announced to upgrade Murree as district.
But this move apparently seems a political gimmick just to calm down the anger of locals against government.
Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, MNA from NA-57 went to oversea the arrangements and personally involved himself in clearing roads and helping tourist to exit safely. However, he has been highly criticized by the people both on social media claiming that his incompetent approach towards Murree has caused this incident.
Despite all the campaigns and efforts led by Prime Minster to increase tourism in Pakistan, a nearby and poplar tourist destination Murree has been ignored and caused this incident.
If existing tourist places are ignored like this and mismanagement shown by departments towards local tourism, it will be difficult to attract foreign tourists. Not only Murree but all the tourist locations need such attention where tourists’ safety is ensured.
Tweeting only, about tourism industry of Pakistan won’t increase tourism but tangible actions are required to make such places well-managed and secure tourist destination.
—The writer is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at National University of Modern Languages Islamabad.