ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday held the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) responsible for the tragedy in Murree that saw the deaths of at least 22 people who were stranded in their vehicles amid unprecedented snowfall.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah held NDMA responsible while hearing a petition seeking a probe and action against those responsible for the tragedy.
"No need for an inquiry in this case. NDMA had to follow the law. All the concerned officials and the entire state are responsible for the tragedy.”
"If no meeting [of the body] was held after 2018, then that makes you responsible," Justice Minallah said the NDMA officials. "You are responsible for these deaths."
The counsel for the petitioner, Advocate Danish Ishraq Abbasi, told the court that his client, Hammad Abbasi, a resident of Murree, had filed the petition in the public interest.
He said that when his client, Abbasi, went to Murree on January 7, he saw that the tourists who were heading towards the hill station, were neither stopped at the toll plaza nor were they informed about the danger that lies ahead.
During the hearing, the chief justice directed Deputy Attorney General Syed Tayyab Shah to come to the rostrum and read laws related to the NDMA.
Justice Minallah asked the deputy attorney general to inform the court that if there was no management plan for the district, why that was so.
"It is such a big body and comprises all the relevant people, including the Opposition. Has such a big body ever held a meeting even?" he asked.
The deputy attorney general replied by saying that he would only be able to apprise the court about the plan after obtaining the information sought.
Justice Minallah summoned NDMA officials to the court at 11am. When the officials appeared, they were asked: "Under the law, is the NDMA not responsible for preventive and response measures to deal with [natural calamities]?"
"If tomorrow, God forbid, an earthquake hits Pakistan, then will you say you are not responsible?" Justice Minallah asked.
"Who is responsible for these 22 deaths?" the chief justice further inquired.
He said that Parliament had made a law in 2010 which had to be implemented. At that point, the court asked that clauses of the disaster management law be read out loud.
The court noted that the petition states that there was no plan in place for the arrival of tourists and that had preparations been made, 22 lives could have been saved.
"It is such a robust law that holds the administration of every district accountable," it observed.
"Had the law been implemented not one death would have occurred."
"You have failed. It was your responsibility to call a meeting, and to provide a management plan for the area (Murree).
"You may not be fully comprehending [the gravity of this]. Your authority had to see the law implemented. You cannot blame anyone else," the court said, expressing displeasure at NDMA officials saying "they will have to check" when it comes to a management plan for Murree.
"What fault was it of the nine children who passed away?"
Justice Minallah said that "everyone loves to make speeches" and that "no one wishes to see the law implemented".
"Everyone's been going on about how the people of Murree are not good people. How are they at fault? Everyone has been on their case for no reason," he added.
The IHC directed Prime Minister Imran Khan to summon a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) meeting next week and fix responsibility for the Murree tragedy.
The court rejected a request by the additional attorney general to grant some more time saying that "this is a highly important and urgent matter".
"If in this time another tragedy occurs, then who will be responsible for that?"
The court asked that it be informed of the parties responsible by next Friday and adjourned the hearing till then.
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