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Death by Negligence
Death by Negligence

Death by Negligence

LHC holds govt institutions responsible for the January 9 tragedy in Murree

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has held provincial government departments – the Rescue 1122, the Punjab Highway Department and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) – responsible for the death of around two dozen tourists at Murree earlier this year.

A single-judge bench of the LHC Rawalpindi Registry on May 27 reserved its verdict on petitions filed by the families of the 23 people who had died of suffocation and hyperthermia after their vehicles got stuck on the road to Murree during a blizzard on January 9, 2022.

Unveiling the verdict on November 2, the bench comprising Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz ordered the relevant authorities to take action against the officers of the Rescue 1122, the Punjab Highway Department and the PDMA whose negligence resulted in the tragedy.

The LHC had held a total of 24 hearings and reserved its verdict in May. The court is likely to issue its 80-page detailed verdict on November 7.

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In its short order, the court banned construction of new commercial buildings at the popular resort while also ordering authorities to demolish all illegal buildings.

The court said a mechanism should be drawn up for hotels, and rents should be fixed by creating categories and distinguishing hotels from guest houses. It also ordered the authorities to increase the amount of compensation be given to the family of every person who lost his life on that fateful day to Rs800,000. The court also ordered the government to establish a separate department for cleaning sewerage lines and drains.

It said a strict legal action should be taken against officers who were aware of the meteorological department’s report about the unprecedented snowfall but took no preemptive measures. The initial inquiry report had revealed the failure of relevant government departments in taking preemptive measures despite warnings issued by the Met Office. The probe also revealed that measures were not taken to regulate the influx of tourists.

During the hearings, the court lashed out at the Murree Development Authority (MDA) and other departments whose negligence had resulted in road blocks and people getting stranded in snow.

The court was told that the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak) had been assigned the task to build a parking plaza in Murree at the cost of Rs1.5 billion.

“Money was allocated for the project but the parking plaza was not built. This money does not belong to the rich; it belongs to the people. Are we living in the Mughal Empire era when funds could be embezzled with impunity?” Justice Aziz had asked.

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The court had remarked that some elements had destroyed Murree’s environment but the institutions have not taken any action. Authorities and institutions, it said, were nowhere to be seen when the people were dying due to heavy snowfall.

Addressing the divisional forest officer, the court had asked since when he had been performing duties in Murree. The court had noted that there used to be a safari park in Murree and a citizen had presented a lion as a gift to the park management a few years back.

The generous citizen came to visit the lion two years later and found that the animal was in extremely bad shape. In fact the beast died on the same day in front of that citizen. This is the performance of officials of the forest department, the court noted. During the hearings, the court had rejected reports submitted by various institutions as fictitious. No authority or institution has taken the Murree tragedy seriously, the judge had said.

The court had asked as to how many trees had been planted in Murree under the last government’s Billion Tree Tsunami campaign. It had also directed the director general of the Punjab Anticorruption Establishment to conduct an inquiry into the Murree tragedy.

In the wake of the tragic incident, the Punjab government had suspended 15 officers including the former commissioner and deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi division.

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