January 10, 2022 – The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has announced the provision of free on-net calls for users with no balance due to the emergency situation in Murree and Galyat areas. The announcement was made in a press release issued by PTA on January 10. The statement said, “mobile phone users, currently present in these areas with no balance, have immediately been provided with free on-net calling facility.”
Press Release: In view of emergency situation in Murree and Galliat areas, mobile phone users, currently present in these areas with no balance, have immediately been provided with free on-net calling facility.
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) January 9, 2022
The customers of telecom services in the region will be able to call numbers of the same networks free-of-cost, while they would still require mobile balance to call on other networks. A one minute call on other networks costs the consumer around 1.5 PKR.
The press release further said that the Authority has directed telecom service providers to ensure smooth and uninterrupted delivery of services.
The decision came after 22 tourists died of cold in their cars during heavy snowfall in the region over the weekend.
A local resident of a nearby village in Murree told the Digital Rights Monitor (DRM) that there has been an electricity outage in the city and surrounding areas since Friday which ultimately prevented telecom towers from operating, “At a given time, telecom towers only have backup to function without 5-6 hours of electricity. It has been two and a half days since the shortage and electricity is still not restored.”
The heavy snowfall in the region is responsible for at least 22 deaths since Friday, while hundreds were snow trapped. Emergency services revealed that out of the 22 deceased, 10 of them were children.
According to the Interior Minister, Sheikh Rashid, the crisis was caused due to a large number of people traveling to Murree to witness snowfall, as more than 100,000 vehicles entered the city. News of people getting stranded started coming on Friday, but it was not until Saturday that the region was declared a disaster zone by authorities.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted about the shocking situation in Murree as a result of the unprecedented snowfall.
Shocked & upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree. Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared. Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 8, 2022
IG National Highways and Motorway Police, Inam Ghani requested citizens to avoid traveling to Murree.
Please don’t travel to Murree!
Snowfall has started again. NHMP officers & NHA are working on clearing the Murree Expressway. Congestion in Murree & on expressway. People in the hotels for the night have come out on the roads. New vehicles are not being allowed to go to Murree.
— Inam Ghani QPM & Bar, PSP (@InamGhani) January 8, 2022
Hours after the Punjab Chief Minister ordered to accelerate the rescue operation for the trapped tourists, television footage showed long queues of cars full of tourists trying to find shelter. He later tweeted that government rest houses and hotels are providing help in the form of food, medicines, warm clothes, and other necessities.
Another Murree resident told DRM that the efforts made by locals must also be highlighted. “I personally know that the owners of Pimento Grill [a local restaurant] used whatever stock they had to help the people in need. I am sure there must be hotels and restaurants that got greedy and raised rates to take advantage of the situation and earn profits, but there was a lot of good that happened in the last few days. Even when it came to taking out people stuck in the cars, it was the residents who brought domestic tools to navigate through snow and offer help before authorities arrived on the scene.”
However, the opposition, as well as the citizens were unhappy with how the government handled the disaster.
The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif condemned the government over its slow response:
سانحہ مری میں قیمتی انسانی جانوں کے ضیاع سے دل بہت غمگین ہے۔ معصوم پاکستانی سخت سردی میں بچوں سمیت تڑپ تڑپ کر مرتے رہے اور نااہل، کر پٹ اور بے حس حکمران اپنے محلوں میں سوتے رہے۔ اللہ تعالٰی مرحومین کی مغفرت اور لواحقین کو صبرِ جمیل عطا فرمائے۔آمین
— Nawaz Sharif (@NawazSharifMNS) January 8, 2022
Ahsan Iqbal, a prominent member of PML(N) and the former Minister of Interior, quoted the PM’s tweet and claimed that the weather warning had been issued on December 31, but the government did not take notice.
What a callous person is he. PMD issued warning on 31 Dec about heavy snowfall & everyone in govt was sleeping. He is now blaming the people for failing to check weather before coming. Those who brought such person in office of PM will taste Allah’s wrath for suffering of people. https://t.co/nlGgEUQ0jE
— Ahsan Iqbal (@betterpakistan) January 8, 2022
Hundreds and thousands of tourists were attracted to Murree after snowfall began at regular intervals since Tuesday. Dawn reports that more than 100,000 vehicles entered the city. Whereas, the entry of tourists coming towards Murree was banned on Friday night.
Mishaal is a Project Coordinator at Media Matters for Democracy. She is a Public Policy graduate with past experience as content strategist and research writer. Her main areas of interest are political science, world history, and public policy.