May 2, 2023
By Asim Ahmad Khan
From January to July 2022, at least 90 coal miners were killed while working in mines across Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Quetta office records a total of 24 accidents that occurred in the coal mines of Balochistan in the same year, in which 71 miners died and 25 were injured.
One of the most hazardous occupations in the country for workers is coal mining. In Balochistan alone, more than 40,000 registered workers are working in the coal mines of the province. These miners must go deep inside the dark, claustrophobic, and cramped tunnels beyond the earth’s surface to manually extract coal; in the process, they must survive the release of poisonous gas or explosions in the mine. With the passage of time, they have to endure serious issues with their breathing, and often their limbs cease to work.
But even basic facilities are not available to these miners who extract coal from rocky mountains without tools.
“Thousands of people work as coal miners in Balochistan,” says one such miner. “But no one ever pays any attention to what their basic needs are for safety measures. The inspector or manager do not come, and if there are any accidents there are hardly any special facilities given to us in the hospitals. There are no special hospitals meant for us.”
Another coal miner chimes in saying it is the same in every coal mine. There are no special facilities anywhere for them.
Lala Sultan, Chairman of the Mines Labor Federation, says the main cause of accidents in coal mines is the lack of safety measures. He says that a few safety measures are absolutely necessary in order to avoid such accidents in coal mines. However, he says, because none of these arrangements are followed, accidents in the mines have become a norm.
One of the biggest reasons for the hazardous conditions and the rising deaths of miners in Balochistan is the old and outdated mining system which has been here for over 100 years. Even today the 98-year-old Balochistan Mines Act 1923, is in force but even this is not fully implemented.
Lala Sultan Chairman Mines Labor Federation says that despite so many accidental deaths, not one person who was responsible for the condition has been arrested and punished. “All of them have enjoyed impunity, not even benig punished for an hour,” he says. “For those who earn in billions, charging them Rs20,000 or 40,000 for fines is like a slap on the wrist. Apart from this, whenever a worker dies in any other occupation in Pakistan, that worker’s family is given compensation worth Rs0.5 million. This is the only province where only Rs0.2 million is being given.”
On the other hand, mines officials say that all possible steps are being taken by the department to ensure the basic essentials for safety, but also add that the department lacks inspectors to inspect mines, yet steps are being taken to increase the number of inspectors.
Abdul Ghani. Chief Inspector Mines Balochistan says that they look only at those companies which are registered. “We do not recognize the unregistered ones. If such an incident does happen, we seal off the mine, as we have done in the past,” he says.
A report published in 2022 by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on the plight of coal mine workers has given alarming revelations about the plight of miners in Balochistan.