01/18/2022

PTA announces free on-net calls for tourists stuck in Murree

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.”

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.

IG National Highways and Motorway Police, Inam Ghani requested citizens to avoid traveling to Murree. 

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:

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.

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.

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