Wednesday June 19, 2024

Murree tragedy inquiry: toothless not ruthless

By Ansar Abbasi
January 11, 2022
Murree tragedy inquiry: toothless not ruthless

ISLAMABAD: Instead of constituting a commission under the Punjab Tribunal of Inquiries to probe the Murree tragedy, the provincial government has set up an administrative committee with no legal backing and merely aimed at fact-finding.

Official sources see a serious problem with the provincial government’s decision to form a fact-finding committee instead of a committee or commission constituted under the law.

It is pointed out that since the inquiry committee has been set up under an administrative order instead of the law dealing with the Punjab Tribunal of Inquiries, the probe body will lack the legal powers required for the collection of evidence, summoning of witnesses, examination of records etc. The TORs also allow the committee to interact with the federal authorities without explaining how the provincial authorities will summon the federal authorities without any legal powers. It is feared that the findings of such a probe committee could be challenged.

A senior spokesman for the Punjab government when contacted explained that this is primarily a fact-finding committee which will give its preliminary report on the Murree tragedy based on which the government will initiate action under discipline and efficiency rules. The spokesman added that charges will be framed against those held responsible by the committee.

But a highly experienced official source insisted that because of the staggering number of over 22 deaths, the government should have constituted a commission under the Punjab Tribunal of Inquiries. Such a law-based inquiry is normally held in cases where incidents involving loss of human lives or property are probed.

Under what law will the present committee summon people? What if someone lies to the committee? What if someone refuses to produce the record or refuses to give evidence or appear before this committee?

It is said that every action of public functionaries must be anchored in some law. What is the legal authority of the committee notified by the Punjab government, asked the source.

When deaths of this nature happen amid allegations of maladministration, negligence or foul play, a proper statute-based inquiry is a requirement of law. The source explained that although legal options are available to the government, yet it opted for an administrative inquiry.

The available options, the source said, include a) a formal tribunal of inquiry under the Punjab Tribunal of Inquiries Ordinance 1969. This tribunal could include administrative officers or a sessions judge or a judge of the high court; b) An inquiry by the Punjab Ombudsman since it is case of alleged maladministration; c) since people died, an ‘inquest’ under the CRPC is also a legal requirement which has also not been undertaken and must be done by a judicial magistrate.

The source lamented that a simple administrative order has been issued as if it is a matter of a misplaced official file.

While the Murree tragedy, because of its seriousness, requires a high-level probe that should probe the conduct of all concerned authorities from Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Murree, the TORs have been drafted in such a manner that they mainly focus on the role of the Rawalpindi administration and police.

The committee does not have any mandate to discuss governance issues linked with Lahore or compare the role of the present administration with the past to see how the Chief Minister’s office in the past had been involved in keeping the authorities on their toes for a smooth winter season in Murree. There is also no question asked relating to funding issues facing the Murree administration or the the implications of frequent administrative changes seriously undermining governance.