March 21st, 2021
By Asim Ahmed Khan
The mining community in Baluchistan is shaken badly. Only last week three major mine-related incidents took place, resulting in the deaths of 14 coal miners. The largest of these accidents occurred in Harnai where seven coal miners lost their lives, but before that, similar incidents occurred in the Dakki and Marwar areas of the province.
And yet these are not the only incidents that have occurred. The Mining Federation of Baluchistan has revealed that from January to the present, at least 45 Baluchistan miners have been killed due to mine collapses, including the three last week.
In response to the mine collapses, the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation held a large protest demonstration against these incidents in Quetta city. Protestors mourned the deaths of their fellow laborers and demanded proper safety measures for people employed in the fast-expanding mining sector of the province.
Abdul Sattar, the Central Chairman of Pakistan Mines Labor Federation, spoke about the issue with Voicepk.net. He blames the contract system for the deaths.
“The contract system is the primary evil plaguing the mining sector of our country. Government bodies that are supposed to protect us do not take any interest in the mines. The mines secretariat is a completely defunct body,” he says.
The protesting miners were of the view that corruption in government institutions was hampering efforts to hold mine owners to account. In the absence of proper government oversight, these mine owners have been given a free hand to exploit their workers as they desire.
“There are literally thousands of workers employed in our mine but there is not even a single hospital nearby to take care of us if an incident happens,” says a young Baloch miner.
Most of the mines operating in Baluchistan are nothing more than informal ditches and tunnels dug in the ground. Owners do not take measures to ensure proper ventilation in the mine. Similarly, no provisions are made to strengthen the structural integrity of the mines to prevent accidents.
“I have come from the neighboring KP province to work in these mines. I have been in this line of work for quite some time now. No one cares for us and there are no facilities for us here,” says a veteran Pashtun miner.
According to Lala Sultan, head of the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation, this year alone some 60 coal miners have died in Baluchistan so far while government figures put the death toll at 20. Lala Sultan also explains that last over 250 coal miners lost their lives in Pakistan out of which a whopping 105 were from the Baluchistan province.
However, there may be many more unrecorded deaths, as there is no proper government system to count those who have lost their lives. Apart from this, many of the miners are in fact illegal citizens who come from Afghanistan, and therefore there is no record of them.
According to the figures provided by the Mines and Minerals Department, there are more than 2,800 coal mines in seven different districts of Baluchistan, including Harnai, Dakki, Quetta, and Kachhi employing about 70,000 miners. Most of the miners are from the Swat, Dir, and Shangla districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while a large number of workers are immigrants from Afghanistan – many of them illegal.
Most of the coal mines in Balochistan are owned by private contractors and are regulated under the 1923 Coal Mines Act. Shocking figures from Baluchistan’s Chief Coal Mining Inspector reveal that there are only five active mining inspectors who are charged with inspecting all formal and informal mines in the province, which range up to almost 5000.
Such statistics reveal why mining accidents are so common in the country. And owing to a complete lack of hospital facilities, people normally impacted by this disaster do not survive.