There are many half and contradictory truths in the Murree inquiry, making its objectivity questionable. The committee was established in the wake of the tragedy in Murree in January, which left 23 tourists dead, to discern responsibility and prevent such a deadly calamity from occurring again. For starters, the committee has failed to acknowledge the separate roles and responsibilities of the federal and provincial government, as per the 18th amendment. Still, the Civil Administration Act 2017 prohibits district administration from going beyond the limits of its mandate.
In times of natural calamities, it is the moral and legal obligation of authorities to help the victims. However, no one can be held legally responsible for not doing the same, due to any reason.
The report attempts to shift blame towards Rawalpindi District Management, so as to undermine its efforts – a concerning factor which secures the interests of the real perpetrators. For example, contingent staff was not properly hired by either the National Highway Authority, the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), Rescue 1122, nor any other federal agencies. The committee has overlooked many facts including limited resources, an unprecedented seventeen inches of snowfall, human error despite due diligence and good faith, and no prior warning alert by the Pakistan Meteorological Department (Met), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), or the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).
Recommendations to upgrade Murree to the status of a district, establish an exit and entry counting system and modern early warning system, implement strict building controls, and prepare a master plan for tourism development, are workable solutions only if performed by the relevant authority with due care.
In theory, lessons in government are learnt according to two principles: antifragility and isomorphic mimicry. Antifragility is about more than resilience or robustness. As Nassim Taleb said, the resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. In this case isomorphic mimicry refers to the tendency of governments to mimic other governments’ successes. Contextualising on-the-ground realities can help in this regard, too.
In reference to the Murree incident, district administration should be more mindful to ensure better coordination by delivering emergency messages loud and clear to the relevant authorities. Reinforcing the specialised abilities of policy implementation through modernization and innovation is important.
The Murree Inquiry proves to be a critical juncture so as to delegate powers properly. A recent court order from the Lahore High Court (LHC) stipulated an interim injunction to implement the laws of land, as no other specific provisions were available to protect the hills from destruction (including Murree, Kahuta and Kotli Satian).
Three books were referenced before the court highlighting the similar problems Murree faced during the British Raj
The court heard from Assistant Commissioner Murree Mr. Waqas who said that work is underway to make Murree an independent district. The court also head from. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, an independent expert on climate change, who said that ground beneath Murree is porous, hence no high-rise buildings should be built there, and instead suggested legislation to make Murree a climate smart city. The Ministry of Climate Change said they would support the provincial government in this regard.
GIS based mapping systems and satellite imaging is also being set in Kotli Sattian, Kahuta National Park, and Murree by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as per the directions of the court.
In 2012, Pakistan signed the “Bhurban Declaration”, which envisioned to “strengthen specialized environmental tribunals and establish green benches, where they exist and consider establishing them where they do not exist”. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has a record of protecting the Margalla hills, as in its suo motu action against the ‘New Murree Project’ and the “Islamabad Chalets and Pir Sohawa Valley Villas” which the court said would “have had a direct bearing on the ecosystem of the Margalla Hills, and the overall environment of Islamabad, because of increased traffic congestion, noise pollution, diminishing greenery, annihilation of wildlife, unhygienic due to sewerage, and frequent landslides due to loosening of soil and removal of rocks.”
Three books were referenced before the court highlighting the similar problems Murree faced during the British Raj. ‘Murree During the Raj, a British Town in the Hills’ by Professor Dr. Farakh A. Khan; ‘Once Upon a Time in Murree’ by Dr. Omar Mukhtar Khan; and ‘Mystique of Murree’ by Lala Rukh Shauka were all cited as evidence of the longstanding environmental concerns surrounding the Margalla Hills.
The court discussed the roles of provincial and federal governments, and also the elimination of concurrent roles, and stressed that the provincial government should make and implement laws where necessary as per its provincial mandate. In the present case the relevant respondent is the Ministry of Climate Change, responsible for making national policy, plans, strategies and programs for disaster management and environmental protection. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency is under the jurisdiction to the ministry. Both the ministry and agency are responsible for making legislation governing the Murree Hills, as per federal rules.
The Rawalpindi Commissioner was directed to create a committee of various stakeholders and subject matter experts. On February 8th, the commissioner held a meeting to draft a law on the preservation, conservation and protection of the Murree Hills and develop a law to be called ‘The Murree Hills Eco System (Preservation, Conservation, and Protection) Act 2022. The results of this committee meeting will be presented before the LHC.