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EDITORIAL: The opposition in both houses of parliament has forcefully rejected an official probe into the Murree tragedy and demanded formation of a Supreme Court-level judicial commission to investigate it and fix the responsibility. According to opposition Senator Raza Rabbani, for example, “an official inquiry would tantamount to an inquiry by peers”.

To Senator Sherry Rehman, “The shocking reality is that this incident was completely preventable had the government that was taking pride in enhanced tourism taken safety measures that are integral to every tourist destination in the world”. Of course the tourist destinations in Pakistan do beckon to travellers from far and wide, but the message of failure to save 26 lives under the snow on the roads of Murree has now reached as far away as the Vatican in Rome.

How ironic it is that the government learnt of the deadly blizzard from electronic and social media. Therefore, it’s quite likely that an official inquiry will be taken as a lot of eyewash.

Had the concerned, duty-bound officials woken up in time, moved out of their quilts and employed the required mechanical resources they could have certainly rescued the people stuck in vehicles. The Met Office had told them about the approaching storm well in time.

But no precaution was taken. None of the 29 heavy mechanical vehicles at the Sunny Bank could move out from that ‘parking lot’ because no driver was there. The salt stored to melt the snow remained untouched. Where were those daily-wage workers hired by the Highway Mechanical Division in November to clear the roads? Why the potholes on some roads that trapped snow were not repaired? Also, why the massive inflow of tourists into Murree had not been checked when an alert had already been issued by the Met Office?

If there was a colossal failure on the part of concerned officials and relevant departments the human contribution to turn a festival into a mass funeral is no less shocking. A part of humanity in that hill station touched new depths of greed and exploitation. As an inquiry gets into stride it should also question why the tourism department, which is supposed to manage the hill station, failed to ensure that beleaguered tourists don’t pay exorbitant hotel rents.

Think of a junior police officer’s take on it. He says as he reached the pointed out place he found that some local people had blocked Bhurban Road with snow in front of a hotel. “As the tourists’ vehicles got stuck in front of the hotel these individuals towed the cars away and charged each driver Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000”. The hotels raised rents by many notches and made food items were 10 times more expensive.

To sum up, Murree now seems to have become a forbidding place to visit because of a variety of factors, including the hostile Nature, inefficient officialdom and greedy hotel owners. Perhaps all of it could be prevented had the Punjab Assembly passed a couple of tourism-related bills that are pending with it for about a year. Hence the need for a comprehensive, impartial and transparent inquiry in a bid to polish Murree’s tarnished image.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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