C.M. Usman Buzdar claims he has fulfilled promise of a fair and transparent inquiry into tragedy that caused deaths of 23 stranded tourists
The Punjab government on Wednesday suspended 15 officials, announcing it was recommending disciplinary action against them over “gross negligence” and failing to prevent the deaths of 23 stranded tourists in Murree earlier this month.
In a brief press statement, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said that the entire chain of command in Murree had failed in its duties by not identifying the looming risk posed by a massive surge of tourism to the hill station ahead of a snowstorm. “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,” he said from Lahore, where he was flanked by provincial Law Minister Basharat Raja and Special Assistant to the C.M. Hasaan Khawar.
Prepared by a five-member committee, the inquiry into the Murree tragedy comprises four volumes; a shorter version was presented to the chief minister on Wednesday. Per the committee’s recommendations, the services of Rawalpindi Commissioner Gulzar Husain Shah; Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ali; Murree Assistant Commissioner Umer Maqbool; Rawalpindi City Police Officer Sajid Kiyani; and Murree Assistant Superintendent of Police Ahmad Shah have been surrendered to the federal government on administrative grounds and strict disciplinary action recommended over their negligent actions.
Similarly, the Rawalpindi chief traffic officer; traffic deputy superintendent of police; Rawalpindi highways circle-II sub-engineer; Rawalpindi executive engineer; highways (mechanical) executive engineer; highways (mechanical) sub-divisional officer; Murree divisional forest officer; Murree district emergency officer; Murree Rescue 1122 in-charge; and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority director have all been suspended and would face disciplinary action.
On Jan. 8, 23 people were reported to have died—mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning—after being stranded in their vehicles overnight due to heavy snowfall that blocked roads leading into and out of the hill station. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the federal government appeared to blame the tourists for “not checking the weather forecast,” with Prime Minister Imran Khan issuing a statement regretting that “unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district administration unprepared.”
The statement had drawn criticism, with citizens questioning the government’s “victim blaming” just a few days after Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain had lauded the entry of more than 100,000 tourist vehicles into Murree as evidence of “economic prosperity.”