The families of deceased coal mine workers waited hours before they received the bodies of their loved ones in Shangla district of KPK province. This is not the first time that they waited so long to offer last prayers and burials to their fathers, brothers and sons. At least 43 workers were killed in March 2011 when explosions triggered a collapse in a coal mine in Balochistan, mostly belonging to this area.
23 sons of Shangla lost their lives in the coal mines of Baluchistan. The Bodies of the 23 deceased coal miners, who lost their lives in two separate coal mining accidents on May 5th, were returned home to Shangla on Sunday night.
The whole area was in deep grief and sorrow as nearly two dozen families lost their loved ones. The bodies were received by Pakistan Muslim League-N Khyber Pakhtunkhwa president Ameer Muqam and his younger brother Ibadullah Khan who is the elected member national assembly from this area. Ameer Muqam is a former federal minister and twice elected member national assembly from this district. His family is very influential in this district but he has done very little to improve the lives of the poor masses.
He is considered as one of the richest politicians of the KP province. He announced a compensation of Rs (one hundred thousand rupees) 0.1 million each for the relatives of the deceased miners. But the federal and provincial governments and elected representatives has failed to address the issues of the local population and to develop the basic infrastructure in the district. No effective steps were taken to trained and educate the mine workers to work in the safer environment. Nothing really is done to improve the working conditions in the mines.
At least 20,000 labourers are employed in 2,500 mines across Balochistan, according to government sources. The overwhelming majority belongs to Shangla district.
Shangla is amongst the most poor and deprived districts of country and the majority of the poor masses are working in the mining sector in Balochistan, NWFP and Sindh. District Shangla is one amongst the five districts in the country which has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) along with Kohistan, Dera Bugti, Tharparkar and Jhal Magsi districts. Also Shangla is the most backward district of the NWFP Province.
Because of immense poverty, unemployment, lack of job opportunities and limited income resources, high rate of population growth and illiteracy forced the poor people of Shangla to work where ever the job opportunities exist and offered. The economic conditions compelled them to work even in the mining industry with dangerous working environment and occupational health hazards to earn the livelihood of their family. Scarcity of development funds allocated to the provincial government and decreasing number and size of public sector projects are also amongst the main reason of the backwardness of the area.
Mining work is extremely physically hard. The mine owners still use primitive and non-mechanical methods in the mines, all the operations, i.e., coal extraction, loading and transportation, are done manually in most of the mines. The the work in the mining industry is very difficult as the work includes digging, drilling and blasting the mines of Coal situated in the Balochistan. There are families in this district which involved in the mining for decades and their second and third generation now working as miners. They dig thousands of feet below the ground and make a hollow tunnel in a mountain just for earn the livelihood for their family members but seldom the mine workers die due to gas suffocation or blasts. It is so horrifying but they have no other option to make a living.
The families are forced to send their sons to work in the mines in very dangerous conditions. The families know the dangers attached with this profession. The unfortunate sons die in the mines because of methane gas, explosions and other work related incidents and returned in ambulances to bury in their native areas. The fortunate ones are those who work in the mines for years gets ill and returned back to their families to die from T.B , Asthma or any other disease.
The resulting figures on occupational accidents in the mining sector in Pakistan are very shocking. According to an estimate, more than 200 people lose their lives annually and a similar number are disabled. The thousands of the mine workers toil under life-threatening conditions. Even inhuman child and bonded labour violations take place in the mining sector and many of the mine workers are registered as daily wages workers brought to a coal mine by the contractor. For protection of the rights and lives of mine workers, there is need to review and implement The 1923 Mine Act according to current needs which already contain provisions for the exclusion of children under 13-years, the grant of a weekly holiday and the limitation of weekly hours to 60 above ground and 54 below ground.
The most of the miners belong to Shangla, Dir, and other regions of Malakand Division. Private mine owners send a middleman who uses different tactics to trap people of these regions, especially Shangla. Being a local, whenever he comes to the village, he carries a large amount of money and distributes it to potential workers. The total amount ranges from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 25,000.
In the case of an incident, mine owners offered compensation ranging between Rs5, 000 to Rs10, 000 to the victim. Similarly, in death cases, owners are bound to pay Rs. 300,000 to mine worker’s family, but mostly such cases go unreported. Large number of poor people lives below poverty line and easily get trapped by accepting loans ranging between Rs. 20, 000 and Rs. 50, 000, which they can never repay and so they end up working in mines.
The federal and provincial governments should immediately act to stop this practice to trap people in debt and then exploit them in mines. This contract system daily wage labour is the new form of slavery.
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13 November, 2019