By Mohammad Abdul Wahab
What started happening in and around Murree from January 06 evening was most tragic and horrible. Thousands of stranded people were shrouded by unexpected snow and trapped in the death game. The heavy snowfall wasn’t unexpected but the prediction of the same had made thousands of snow enthusiasts across the country to start marching towards Murree in a state of unpreparedness while observing zero protocols required for visiting snowfall areas.
Motorways and highways should serve as a bane for any public but they become bone if the public resorts to recklessness without undertaking any precautions. Who was counting the vehicles entering Murree is yet unknown but a Federal Minister who had to delete his tweet was reportedly found celebrating the entry of more than 100 thousand vehicles in Murree that day.
What puts me in great shock is the inability of the police and Toll Plaza management to raise any alarm on the massive and unprecedented entry of vehicles. What a common person like me can understand is that a hilltop that can hardly cater for maximum five thousand vehicles and twenty thousand people, how can it accommodate 162 thousand vehicles loaded with 400k to 600k people. That shows that the disaster was in the making and a certain number of monkeys in the shape of humans were watching that with unpardonable callousness and criminal negligence. If I were one of them, I should have been alarmed while issuing toll tickets to vehicles after 10k. But where federal ministers are unable to gauge that they were watching a crisis brewing up, what could else be expected from others much lower in status. For instance, the Information Minister knowing the size and area of Murree should have been the first person to raise alarm instead of celebrating the entry crossing 100k figure in to Murree, alluding to the success of the PTI government’s tourism policy. A strange policy which is enticing people to throng picnic spots without increasing facilities and building additional infrastructure on war footings. One is forced to say that it proved to be a policy made in a drawing-room without knowing ground realities.
Let us first talk about the approach of a common man. People get excited throughout the country when they come to know that snowfall is expected in Murree. Given better means of transportation and comparatively better roads, thousands of them put their families in their cars and start their journey to the holy place of Murree with the unexpressed intention that observing snowfall may lead to pardoning their sins. Our people are alien to proper gear that keeps them warm and stable on slippery roads. If they are advised to wear waterproof clothing, gloves, caps, spiked shoes, a tow chain, a shower, enough food, filled fuel tank, etc. people pay no heed, thinking one is trying to dissuade from the Heavenly tour. They confront the hostile weather with no preparations at all in casual home dressing and bathroom slippers. The same applies to their cars which have no chains on their tyres and can slide easily down in to any ravine. Even a skidding car poses great danger to the other car having chains on its tyres. Such people damn bother for any negative consequences of their reckless actions. They appear contented stating that it was ordained by God Almighty.
When people choose to be reckless, the State has to take over its motherly role of appreciating for good acts and chastising bad acts especially the ones which endanger the well being of other citizens. In this serious tragedy, the State appeared as a silent onlooker. It won’t be inapt to conclude that the State appeared indifferent and negligent to the criminal extent. Murree is a small hill station with limited resources as it is a fourth part of the district Rawalpindi. By default the Toll Plaza built for Murree was capable to register each and every car crossing it. When the number of cars crossing the Toll Plaza increased beyond 20k in a very short span and kept growing too rapidly, the figures demanded quick decision to stop entry of any more cars to avert any disaster. Adding insult to injury, the fact which was supposed to be taken as an alarm, was taken as a Pride by the federal minister of Information who tweeted that 100k vehicles entering Murree indicate the success of the tourism promotion policy of the government. That means he and his other colleagues including the PM were clueless what could happen if the vehicles got stuck in snow as there were forecasts of heavy snowfall. Didn’t they know the capacity of roads, toilets, restaurants, hotels and food in the tiny Murree with too narrow roads and extremely greedy and opportunist hosts who have proven track record of being inhospitable and ill-mannered. Therefore the government should accept its negligence of abandoning people on their own to be killed and destroyed by the hostile environment and then by the hostile mercenaries and opportunist hosts who employ every possible opportunity of deceit, fraud and loot.
One should also note that the terrain of Murree hardly permits emergency helicopter evacuation. Due to heavy snowfall when cars get stuck there is no way of helping a car surrounded by snow even on foot. When it is dark and one is stuck in snow, there is no other way to survive what people did. Unfortunately, everyone facing the grim situation first time in life wasn’t aware of cleaning exhaust regularly in order to survive. Moreover, it’s a usual practice everywhere in the country to block oncoming vehicles by making two to four lanes. This leaves no room for any oncoming vehicle to move an inch and causes irreversible blockage.
The reports pouring in by the tourists about the ugly greedy behaviour of the hoteliers and other services’ staff are extremely shocking and hate worthy. There might be few good cases, otherwise the overwhelming majority has established the tales of ferociousness and extreme greed. When suffering tourists were in grave need for assistance and cooperation, they were looted with extreme inhuman sense of greed and charged ten to twenty times more. When even enemies’ hearts melt on the extremely pathetic condition, these faithless ferocious beasts didn’t spare the dying countrymen and reportedly sold a boiled egg and a cup of tea for Rs.500 each. For a hotel room of Rs. 5000, they are reported to have charged 40 t0 70 thousand.
Enough is enough. Let’s talk about what to do now. How to behave like human beings and find solutions to our problems.
Let’s install inter-connected electronic booths on every entry and exit point of Murree mentioning total number of cars inside Murree and exiting Murree. The screen should be automatic to be updated on every entry or exit.
Let’s decide about the number of people and cars. In no way more than 5000 cars with 20000 people should be allowed in Murree at any given time.
The state must establish its writ in Murree. It should not leave tourists at the mercy of greedy businessmen. All rates of food, restaurants and hotels must be regulated by 24 hours active administration. A toll free 24 hours active number should be displayed at 100 points in and around Murree. On any overcharging, misbehavior or sub-standard food complaint, there should be response within 10 minutes. The hotels, restaurants, parking and food outlets must be sealed, heavily fined and owners plus dealing manager must be locked up for a week.
Parking plazas should be built in order to cater for the increased requirement.
During snowfall season, no vehicles should be allowed to enter Murree without chains on tyres. Heavily supplied shops with tyre chains and personal waterproof warm suits of all sizes along with shoes with spikes should be established and the required material should be rented to each tourist on concessional rates. No one should be allowed to walk into snow area without that gear. When the gear is returned, it should be readied for others’ use. The practice is in vogue in other parts of the world including in our neighbouring Shimla Hill top.
Vehicles should be parked in parking plazas and tourists should only be allowed to walk or special electric vehicles should be used to bring tourists to the snow area from parking plazas.
Deploying the above strategy with further modifications can help to overcome disasters and improve safe tourism. Our stress should be Safe Tourism.