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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the National Disaster Management Commission to probe lack of preparedness and response by the institutions that led to death of 22 persons in Murree’s tragic incident.

A single-judge bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah, on Thursday, heard a petition to unearth the gross criminal negligence of the federal, Punjab and the Rawalpindi district authorities, who failed to perform their duties, due to that 22 tourists lost their lives in Murree on January 7 and 8, 2022.

Hammad Abbasi, a resident of Islamabad who went to Murree with his family on 07-01-22, had filed a writ a petition under Article 199 of Constitution and cited secretaries Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Communication, chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Punjab home secretary, and the Punjab police officials as respondents.

The Commission under section 3(2) of the NDMA Act comprises the Prime Minister, Chairperson of Commission, Leader of Opposition in the Senate, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Minister for Defence, Minister for Health, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Social Welfare and Special Education, Minister for Communications, Minister for Finance, Minister for Interior, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chief Ministers of all the Provinces, Prime Minister Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Executive Gilgit Baltistan, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee or his nominee, and the representatives of civil society or any other person appointed by the Prime Minister.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was directed to forthwith request the chairperson of the Commission, i.e., the prime minister to call an urgent meeting of the Commission and conclude the proceedings before January 22, 2022.

The court expected that the chairperson (PM) will call a meeting and conclude the proceedings before the next date (January 22). It said, in case, the Commission meeting is not held before the next date, then the head of the NDMA and the principal secretary to the PM shall appear in person to explain why proceedings may not be initiated against persons responsible for exposing lives of the citizens to risk.

The Commission shall enquire why the provisions of the NDMA Act have not been implemented and why the Rawalpindi District Management Authority remained non-functional. The Commission, shall also enquire whether a District Plan covering the sub District of Murree was prepared and why it was not acted upon.

The Commission after fixing responsibility of officials/ entities involved in failure to implement the provisions of the NDMA Act shall make them accountable by proceeding in accordance with law.

The Commission shall probe lack of preparedness and response, which led to the traumatic loss of precious lives, including nine children and take such action as required under the law. The NDMA shall submit a report on behalf of the Commission on the date fixed.

The IHC registrar was ordered to send copies of the order to the NDMA and the principal secretary to the PM for compliance.

Muhammad Idrees Mehsud, member NDMA, informed that the Commission held only five meetings between 2007 and 2018. The last meeting was held on 28th March 2018. No member of the Commission, including leaders of the opposition in the Senate and the National Assembly had ever requested to call a NDMA meeting.

The composition of the Commission itself is enough to determine the responsibilities of the NDMA.

Even if the Punjab province or Punjab Disaster Management Commission had failed to notify the Rawalpindi District Management Authority or make a District Plan, the NDMA cannot absolve itself of being responsible.

The mere fact that no meeting of the Commission was held since March 2018, establishes the dereliction of statutory duty of the NDMA. Prima facie, failure to implement the NDMA Act is the sole factor, which had led to the loss of precious innocent lives, including nine children. The court noted that despite failure of the statutory bodies created under the NDMA Act, the local population of Murree is being blamed.

The unprecedented snowfall and its ensuing consequences definitely were covered under the expression “disaster” defined in section 2(b) of the National Disaster Management Act, 2010. The order said that tragic deaths were obviously due to lack of response of public functionaries and its institutions and thus a failure of “disaster management” as defined under section 2(c).

The Court noted that it appears that there was no response from the District Disaster Management Authority, which was required to have been established under the statute. It also appears that either there was no “District Plan” as contemplated under section 21 of the NDMA Act and if it existed then there was no preparedness or response pursuant thereto. “In a nutshell, there was complete collapse of the statutory mechanism mandated under the NDMA Act.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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