The Islamabad High Court on Thursday held the state and the National Disaster Management Authority responsible for the Murree tourist tragedy that claimed 22 lives, including 9 children.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, while hearing the public interest petition by Murree citizen Hammad Abbasi, grilled NDMA member Idrees Mehsud and remarked that the tragedy could have been avoided if the NDMA had a plan in place.
Non-functional NDMA Commission
During the hearing, it was also revealed that NDMA commission had only held two meetings since 2013, with CJ Minallah issuing instructions that Prime Minister Imran Khan summon a meeting of the same next week to determine why the authority had failed to execute its mandate and put plans in place for incidents like the one that transpired in Murree.
The NDMA Commission comprises the prime minister, the opposition leader in NA and Senate, provincial chief ministers, the premiers of Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK, relevant ministers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee or its representative, civil society member and the NDMA chairman.
When the court inquired about meeting of NDMA members, it was informed that one meeting was held on February 21, 2013, while another was held at March 28, 2018.
The court then asked whether the Opposition leader had requested a session, upon which the NDMA representative responded in the negative.
Justice Minallah also inquired whether the director general (DG) of NDMA had written to the government to hold a session with the authority, which also resulted in a negative response.
“If a session had been called and disaster preparedness had been formalised, the tragedy could have been avoided,” remarked the IHC CJ. “Was any plan put in place for Murree?”
Justice Minallah remarked that NDMA could not be exonerated in the Murree incident as it is the authority’s responsibility to have plans in place for such tragedies including a response mechanism to mitigate losses.
The court also instructed NDMA members present at the hearing to revisit the National Disaster Management Act, while pointing out that there were complaints that zero preparedness compounded the magnitude of the tragedy.
When asked if the NDMA had formulated any plans for the Rawalpindi district, the NDMA member said it was the responsibility of the provincial government.
Justice Minallah responded that provinces are required to comply with the National Disaster Management Act, while stating that the national authority had failed in discharging its duties.
“Did the provincial bodies have any sessions,” inquired the chief justice. “You can’t just blame the district administration,” the chief justice added, castigating he NDMA member.
“If the law had been followed, not a single citizen would have lost their life,” he added.
He said that there was no need for an inquiry into the tragedy as it was the NDMA’s responsibility to ensure the laws pertaining to disaster management were followed.
“If plans had been in place for districts, the situation wouldn’t have arisen,” he remarked.
Justice Minallah said that it was the NDMA’s failure that caused the tragedy and it was wrong to make residents of Murree the scapegoat.
“Everyone is saying that Murree people are exploitative. But what is their fault in all of this? NDMA failed in its duty,” he remarked.
He asked the NMDA member whether the authority’s chairman was acquainted with its laws. “You can’t even tell us whether there are district plans in place despite the passage of eleven years?”
If such plans were in place, hotel owners wouldn’t have had the gumption to overcharge.
He also instructed the prime minister should call a session of NDMA members next week and initiate action against those responsible for the tragedy.
Instruct PM to summon NDMA member meeting in the next week and determine who is to blame for the tragedy.
Justice Minallah rejected the attorney general’s request for more time, while instructing him to share details of those to blame at the next hearing, while adjourning it till next Friday.