July 6, 2020
By Umar Bacha
Shangla receives two to five dead bodies almost every month and several injured miners with permanent disabilities.
Senior vice president, Pakistan Mine Workers Federation, Ali Bash Khan believes that poverty and lack of job opportunities are the main reasons which force residents of the Shangla district to work in the coal mines.
“These incidents occur due to the negligence of inspectors, contractors, and mines managers as they do not care for human life as much as they care about getting work done in the mines” he added.
Sakina, a widow of a late miner and other women now rely on the financial aid and loans from the neighborhood to feed their children.
“My husband was a daily wager making 400 rupees a day, he wanted to rebuild our house and get our children educated so he went to Balochistan along with his brother and they both died working,” said Sakina, before she wiped her tears.
Wahidullah (12 year old) and his 10 year old brother work at local restaurants on Rs 300 daily wage to feed their family ever since their father and 15 other coal miners of Shangla were allegedly abducted by unknown men in 2011 but have not recovered yet.
Wahidullah says he wishes to get an education for his better future but he needs a stable income for his siblings’ livelihood.
Many children of dead miners have also started going to the mines, even the ones studying also work in the subterranean mines.
Ikramullah, 22 years old was injured in a mine incident three years ago and is now physically unfit, while his father is also suffering from lung illness who had been working in different mines for the last 30 years.
Ikramullah said he never saw any inspector inspecting mine during his three years of mining work, however, local contractors were always there but only surveil the workers.
According to Shangla’s Coal Miners Welfare Association, around 4000 miners suffering from lung illness alone in Shangla got various diseases at different times.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly passed a law on December 27 in 2019 for the safety of workers, ensuring inspection and registration of mines. Sources say that about 60 percent of coal mines in merged districts of KP, the contractors, and mine owners avoid registration of miners as workers altogether.
When accidents take place the mine crew tries to carry the rescue efforts themselves but even they do not have the required safety equipment.
There are a total of 14 mine crews (rescue workers) in the 1924 mines of KP with only 5 dysfunctional gas detectors while breathing operators are either not available mostly with them or do not have the refills for the oxygen machine.
Rescue workers are also not equipped with a universal testing machine mandatory for mines inspection and this puts their lives at more risk while there is no risk allowance being offered to them.
KP’s minister for labour welfare and culture, Shaukat Yousafzai was also elected from Shangla and he claims to have made efforts in legislation for the miners’ safety at their workplace and their registrations.
“I have directed the concerned authorities to not only register all the mines across the KP but the miners too with the government bodies immediately,” added Yousafzai.
He further explained that incidents take place in the illegal and unregistered coal mines run by private contractors because a registered worker is bound to work under safe conditions only.
The minister believes that since the law is now in place, free healthcare, education, and all the other basic facilities would be provided to miners by the government.