“Unprecedented snowfall & rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared.” Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted after the tragic Murree incident. While the five-member probe committee formed by the government to inquire about the Murree tragedy after completion of their investigation reveals that the incident occurred due to “administrative negligence”. However, both parties have ignored the factor of illegal highrises and extensive commercial encroachments in the popular hill station, where nearly two dozen people died tragically.
The Murree Tragedy & Post Scenario
According to the reports on the night of 8th of January, 23 people died all presumably tourists, due to the cold after their cars got stuck on snow-covered roads leading to Murree. Apparently their cause of death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning while being stuck in their cars as thousands of tourist vehicles ended up being stranded in Murree due to heavy snowfall.
Over the tragedy Chief Minister of Punjab have just completed his “fair and transparent inquiry” and taken action by suspending 15 officials on “gross negligence, lack of coordination and team work.” Honestly, the respectable CM ignored to look behind the curtains.
This is an established fact illegal construction, high deforestation and alleged encroachments have been rampant in various areas of Murree, that too in violation of Supreme Court’s order. Politically influential people in connivance with tehsil officials and hotel mafia constructed hotels above the authorized limit of height in the hill station, which had to bring drastic consequences.
Illegal High-rises Construction
According to present by-laws, only 30-foot high buildings are allowed with ground plus two floors to could be constructed. But a huge number of multi-storey buildings have been constructed violating existed by-laws. These buildings have not only damaged the environment and ecology of the resort city but are also responsible for commercial encroachments on public spaces, green belts and road network. Altogether, that have congested the commutation as well as endangered the public health of tourists.
Till 1947, British always used to make wooden houses in Murree. After independence by- laws were devised permitting reinforced cement construction limited to only two floors. But since the last two decades buildings of upto eight floors have been constructed. In these hotels for about 100 rooms capacity has been made available without provision of parking of a single vehicle. Presently there are nearly 300 such illegal buildings in Murree resort having height of more than 150 feet. All these high-rises were made without any approval of maps and building plans.
The annual deforestation rate of Pakistan is 2.37 %, the highest degradation rate in Asian countries. Illegal encroachment on forest land is one of the major causes of deforestation in Pakistan. A research study well addresses the issue of forest encroachments in Murree Forest Division. By jurisdiction the area is a biodiversity-rich popular hill station of Punjab province and hosts thousands of visitors throughout the year. Murree Forest Division comprises of 19,135 47,285 acres of state forest land, out of which 1,158.8 2,862 acres was identified as land encroached upon by the land grabbers, builders, and timber mafia.
For sustainable development, a balance between construction and conservation always needed to be maintained. Murree is just a classic example of such imbalance in Pakistan. What unfortunately happened on the 8th of January was, as a matter of fact, expected. The hill city resort couldn’t sustain any load of over-burdening due to above commercial greed. And, all higher authorities have skipped above facts completely.