Editorial: Inquiry into Coal Mines Safety Practices in Balochistan

This Saturday, in a tragic incident, 23 coal miners lost their lives after a gas explosion in a coal mine in outskirts of Quetta. Coal Miners were working deep down in a coal mine in Sur-range area which is situated in south-east of Quetta city. 21 out of 23 coal miners belonged to Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This unfortunate incident is not the first of its kind and the incidents resulting in the death of coal miners in Balochistan are frequent.
On Sunday, Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation (PMCLF) protested against the killing of coal miners outside Quetta Press Club. They claimed that every year between 100 to 200 coal miners die in mine incidents in Pakistan. Majority of the incidents take place in Balochistan. According to estimates, 100,000 laborers work in 400 mines across Balochistan.

Coal Miners work more than 10 hours a day and are paid paltry sums of Rs. 1,000 to 1,500 per week

The laborers working in coal mines are under-privileged and are exploited by their employers. They work more than 10 hours a day and are paid paltry sums of Rs. 1,000 to 1,500 per week. There are no additional benefits for them in case they get sick. The way these laborers are treated is against basic human rights and also against Labor laws. The coal mine owners get away with all this because of a weak Mines regulatory regime in Balochistan.
The latest incident has exposed the issue of safety in Coal mines of Balochistan. Coal mines are a dangerous place to work and therefore precautionary measures are adopted for the security of the laborers. There are safety practices and protocols which have to be followed to ensure that all those working in coal mines are safe. The current incident, along with similar such incidents in the past, proves that coal mine safety practices are not adopted in Coal Mines of Balochistan. As a result the life of under-privileged laborers is at risk.
Coal mine owners have a vested interest in not adopting safety practices in coal mines because this allows them to save costs and maximize profits. That’s why it’s the duty of the government to ensure that Coal Mine owners must invest in Coal mine safety. Apparently, Government of Balochistan and its mines department has utterly failed to do its job.
The reason for this failure can be traced back to governance problems in Balochistan and the rampant corruption. Presently, a major portion of the government machinery in Balochistan is not doing its job properly because the rules of business and policies are not followed. Same is the case with Mines department which has failed to regulate Mines due to its inefficiency coupled with bad governance.

Government of Balochistan must initiate a high level inquiry on the safety conditions of Coal mines in Balochistan

In public interest, the government has to take steps to regulate mines effectively and prevent loss of precious lives in future. Therefore, it’s demanded from Government of Balochistan to initiate a high-level inquiry on the safety conditions of Coal mines in Balochistan. This inquiry should be conducted by an empowered body comprising of government officials and Mine-safety experts. This body should be provided full support and authority to conduct the inquiry. Based on the findings of the inquiry,the government of Balochistan should penalize the Mine owners who are found responsible for deliberately not adopting safety practices. This inquiry must also produce workplace safety protocols for Coal Mines which should be robustly implemented by the government of Balochistan.
Lastly, if the government treats the issue of death of 23 coal miners as business as usual then it will be responsible for the death of coal mine workers in future. Therefore, the government of Balochistan which claims to be a pro-peoples government should deal the issue of Coal Mines safety as a top priority and order an inquiry on safety conditions in Coal Mines.
Balochistan Voices
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Adnan Aamir is founder and Editor of Balochistan Voices. He also works as an independent journalist covering politics, economy, and development. He is Digital Security Fellow of Reporters Without Borders 2019. He has also completed Chevening South Asian Journalism fellowship from the University of Westminster in 2018.