Balochistan’s killer coal mines

Minimum opportunities of livelihood force the people of Balochistan to put their lives at stake by choosing the perilous profession of mining. Shocking incidents of casualties in coal mines are reported every passing month. Owing to unsafe working conditions, Balochistan’s mining sector has taken a heavy toll on hundreds of mine workers over the years.

Absence of precautionary measures such as rescue equipment, firefighting apparatus, equipment for detection of methane gas and proper ventilation system increases the chances of incidents. A majority of the reported incidents point towards the reckless disregard for protective gears during mining.

Last month, at least six colliers narrowly escaped death when the accumulation of methane gas led to an explosion causing a mine to collapse which closed the mine’s only exit in Balochistan’s Harnai district.

Three of the trapped coal miners were rescued within 24 hours whereas other colliers were extricated after nearly 72 hours. Safe recovery of four miners in Harnai’s coal mine after remaining trapped for five consecutive days is nothing short of a miracle.

Deputy Director Mines and Minerals department, Ibrahim Bazai, expressing concerns over the casualties in the coal mines held mine workers responsible for their criminal negligence during mining.

Referring to an incident in the Machh coal mine, he stated that the methane gas explosion killed three miners last year. Later, the inquiry board learned that one of the colliers’ smoking habits caused an explosion inside the mine.

Responding to a question related to the accountability of mine owners, he said, a board of inquiry sits after every incident and tries to dig out the cause of coal mine causality.

“In several cases, mine owners have been charged for their carelessness and they had to pay a handsome amount in lieu to the victim families”.

Bazai maintained that mine owners live a lavish lifestyle and too many of them have risen from rags to riches but they never bother to spend even small amount of their fortune on the social security and welfare of their mine workers.

Continuing conversation, Bazai added that the special inspection teams visit coal mines in Balochistan’s remote areas to check the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down by the mines department.

A mine owner, Mir Shah Nawaz, rebutted Bazai’s claims regarding the welfare and wellbeing of mine workers adding that mine owners compensate their mine workers in case of any unfortunate incident.

“Despite the fact that mine owners are actively contributing to Balochistan’s economy by generating enough revenue for the province, the Balochistan government gives least attention towards the security and welfare of mine owners and their workers,” he complained.

Mir found three major loopholes in the mining industry which most often trigger mine incidents resulting in the deaths of mine workers.

“Accumulation of methane gas, use of obsolete carts during deep mining and suffocation are the major causes of mine related casualties in Balochistan,” he stated.

A 50-year old mine worker, Haji Allah Dad, with first-hand experience of working in coal mines for the last 20 years shed light on the desperate plight of mine workers working in various mines of the province.

“Mine workers contract severe diseases of lungs and heart owing to the poor working conditions in coal mines,” he said. Owing to the lack of ambulance and first aid facilities in the premises of coal mines, many colliers could not even reach hospital on time.

“Dying in these coal mines is better than dying of abject poverty along with our children”, Allah Dad concluded.

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