The Murree tragedy

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

Every year in December, snowfall is expected in Murree, which attracts tourists from all over the country. There are a number of beautiful tourist destinations, including the northern areas, throughout the country, Murree is an example of its own kind in terms of tourism.

The construction of Murree was begun by the East India Company in 1851 as a sanatorium for British troops. When the War of Independence started in 1857, the brave tribes of Murree and Hazara fought bravely against the British. For a long time, Murree was also the summer headquarters of British Punjab. Churches are among the major historical monuments in the area where Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are celebrated with enthusiasm.

After the formation of Pakistan, Murree maintained the status of the most popular tourist destination in the country with pleasant weather in the summer and snowfall in the winter. Apart from public places and hotels, there are various government buildings as well as many rest houses and guest houses managed by government, non-government and private institutions. Murree is also the headquarters of the 12th Infantry Division of the Pakistan Army. Similarly, the Pakistan Air Force also maintains a base at Lower Topa, near Patriata.

Unfortunately, this beautiful tourist destination is currently under restrictions. The reason for the ban on public entry by the administration is the tragic deaths of tourists on the roads due to the recent heavy snowfall in the area. If we take a look at our national history, numerous fatal crises have occurred in the form of natural disasters, such as heavy floods, fires, and earthquakes. Every nation in the world faces more or less the same challenges. The only difference is that other countries learn from such incidents and implement effective strategies for prevention for such tragedies in the future.

Most institutions in our country not only neglect their responsibilities but also try to put their administrative incompetence on the heads of others. The administration focuses on the temporary solution of restrictions whereas the real problem remains unsolved. Should heavy snowfall be blamed for the recent devastation in Murree or is the arrival of a large number of tourists without any proper preparations responsible? Did the merciless behaviour of some hotel management lead to this tragedy or did the carbon monoxide in the heaters of the vehicles stuck in the snow take the lives of the passengers? These questions are still being debated in our media.

In my view, poor communication and lack of coordination are the major factors behind every tragedy we face. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, we are lagging behind in the field of communication management. There is also a lack of awareness among our people. False information on social media makes the situation more complicated. Although our media tries its best to show the facts, our institutions start working when an unfortunate tragedy occurs.

If we want to strengthen the tourism industry to boost the national economy, we have to make some important decisions on an emergency basis. First, the forecasts issued by the Meteorological Department should be taken seriously for timely security measures. Modern machinery and technology must be arranged to provide safe passage for tourists. Setting up a tourism police and helpline to protect tourists is also very essential.

I believe that the hotel owners who were involved in illicit profiteering instead of helping tourists should be severely punished but under this guise the livelihood of the common people of Murree should not be affected. The historically significant Murree could rightly become a world-class tourist destination where not only pleasant weather but also the historical and religious sites of the colonial era can attract the attention of tourists.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani