Fact-check: Govt officials failed to prevent Murree tragedy, court finds

LHC, in its judgment, stated that government departments and officials failed in carrying out their duties

Geo Fact-Check

On January 7, 22 Pakistani tourists died in the northern hill station of Murree, after being stuck for hours in a snow-induced traffic jam.

After the tragedy, politicians from the then-ruling party blamed the people for arriving in large numbers at the popular tourist resort and choking the traffic. Others claimed that an unprecedented snowstorm resulted in the fatalities.

Both claims are incorrect.


A day after the tragedy, on January 8, Imran Khan, the then-prime minister, tweeted that he was shocked and upset at the tragic death of tourists on the road to Murree. Khan held the “unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions” for the incident.

The tweet has, till now, received nearly 4,000 retweets and 22,000 likes.

While the then interior minister Sheikh Rashid called the tragedy a result of a natural calamity. Talking to the host of the Geo News program, "Jirga", the minister said: “There was large scale snowfall. It was not expected.”

Similarly, Shahbaz Gill, the then-special assistant to the prime minister, alleged that “the problem was of snow which was more than any expectation.” The video has to date received over 11,000 views.


The Lahore High Court (LHC), in its judgment, released in October, has stated that the government departments and officials failed in carrying out their duties, which led to 22 tourists, including ten children, losing their lives in the mountainous resort.

In his 41-page verdict, Justice Abdul Aziz wrote that the government-run Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), Meteorological Department, the Punjab Highway Department, Rescue 1122 and the then-government of Punjab did not perform their duties to avert the disaster.

The PDMA "badly failed to cope with the situation”, the court stated, adding that the forecast of heavy snowfall in Murree was not properly transmitted to the concerned departments, either by the Meteorological Department or by the PDMA.

It was also the responsibility of the PDMA, the court highlighted, to have launched an awareness campaign about the dangers of carbon monoxide in a stagnant car. “The tragic incident is one example of the damage resulting from the indifferent attitude of PDMA towards their statutory obligation of imparting awareness,” the court wrote.

Regarding the Meteorological Department, the LHC noted that instead of issuing a weather advisory through print or electronic media, the calamity alert was only transmitted through a WhatsApp message to the director general of PDMA, who had already retired two days before the incident.

The court also stated that the Punjab Highway Department had a major role to play in clearing snow from the roads, for which a large budget is allocated to it.

“Though an attempt was made to canvass before this Court that...the Punjab Highway Department put best of its efforts but the frailty of such stance was badly exposed from the record,” the judge wrote, “Initially, it was stated before this Court that approximately 29 vehicles including snow blowers of Highway Department were located at Key-Points and remained.”

But the court later found out that there were only 20 people to operate the 29 vehicles, of which 15 officers did not have the required expertise to clear the roads.

As for the Rescue 1122 officials did not reach the calamity hit areas in time, the court noted.

The LHC also held the government of Punjab responsible, calling it “appalling” that in the last four years the Assistant Commissioners in Murree were changed nine times.

“The government of Punjab cannot be absolved from its responsibility and mishandling of affairs in the region by various departments which can be described as one of the causes behind the tragedy,” stated the verdict.

A report prepared by the Punjab government in January also held the government department responsible for mishandling the crisis.

With additional reporting by Shabbir Ahmed Dar.

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