"There were no masks, the workers put cloths over their mouths to protect their colleagues and went down into the toxic mine"

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Asim Ahmed Khan

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Read In Urdu

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"There were no masks, the workers put cloths over their mouths to protect their colleagues and went down into the toxic mine"

Asim Ahmed Khan

loop

Read In Urdu

On March 19, at around 11 pm, a coal mine exploded in Hernia district due to methane gas, trapping 10 workers. Eight workers working there started a rescue operation to evacuate them. Unfortunately,  due to the lack of necessary equipment and training for rescue, the rescue workers also got stuck in the mine.

The rescue teams were dispatched from Quetta after Deputy Commissioner Harnai office reported the incident to the Mines Department and PDMA.

Harnai district consisting of hundreds of coal mines has a population of one lakh 27 thousand. It is found at a distance of 120 km from Quetta.

The exploded mine is located in a privately owned village named Zardalo.

The rescue operation persisted for 12 hours.

According to Abdul Ghani Baloch, the Chief Inspector Mines Balochistan, eight people were rescued while 12 dead bodies were retrieved during this joint operation.

 “The explosion after gas filling caused a part of the mine to settle, trapping 10 miners. The 10 miners who went for their rescue also fainted.”

Abdul Ghani said that gas had also accumulated in sufficient quantity after the part of the mine had settled.

 “The rescue teams found only 8 workers alive after the exhaust fans were used to expel the gas.”

Deputy Commissioner Harnai Javed Domki mentions that the surviving miners have been provided medical aid and are out of danger.

 “Most of the deceased individuals belong to the Pishin district. Whereas, two of the dead ones are those who went for the rescue.”

Rafiullah who works in the same mine informed that fellow miners decided to help their co-workers as there were no rescue teams on time.

 “There were no gas masks available so they had only wrapped clothes over their mouth and stepped in the mine bare-handed. They had no idea when the gas overpowered their senses.”

According to him, this is not the first time it has happened. In the past, due to the rescue teams' inability to arrive on time, fellow miners have been forced to carry out dangerous rescue operations on their own. Unfortunately, some of these miners have lost their lives in the process.

According to Tahir Habib, the former Vice Chairman of HRCP, the coal mines of Balochistan do not have basic equipment to save the workers in case of accidents, including first aid, and gas masks, which should be available there. However, mine owners do not provide even basic equipment to reduce expenses, which is a serious crime.

“No action is taken against the mine contractors due to the few number of inspectors of the Mines Department and their lack of commitment.  The mines are temporarily sealed in case of accidents. However, they are open again later without any further action.”

Chief Inspector Mines Balochistan, Abdul Ghani mentioned that the mine has been sealed to carry out investigations and find out the causes of the mishap.

He further mentioned that in 2023, 68 miners died as a result of the mines' calamities in Balochistan.

Coal mining is considered to be the largest industry in Balochistan.

According to Lala Sultan, General Secretary of Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation, there are currently more than 3,800 coal mines in Balochistan, in which more than 1 lakh workers extract more than 10 million tons of coal every year. According to him, this amount is 50 percent of the coal extracted across Pakistan annually.

According to the records of the Minerals Department of Balochistan, there is a total of more than 268 million tons of coal in seven districts of Balochistan including Loralai, Duki, Bolan and Ziarat.

Abdul Ghani informs that more than 60 thousand miners are working in around 3 thousand active mines.

According to Lala Sultan, most of the coal mine tragedies occur in Balochistan.

“According to our data, in 2022, 152 coal mine workers died in mine accidents across Pakistan, with the highest number of 89 miners from Balochistan. Thirty-two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 19 in Punjab and 12 miners died in the mines of Sindh province.”

Abdul Ghani Baloch expresses that the number of dead workers is always reported higher. However, he confirms that in the last five months of last year, there were 18 accidents in the coal mines of Balochistan in which 24 miners died.

For the welfare of miners, the Mine Act of 1923 is active in Balochistan. Under this act, the owner and contractor are obliged to pay compensation of 5 to eight lakhs to the family of a worker who dies in an accident during labour. Meanwhile, the government is responsible for paying 3 to five lakhs to the victim.

In its 2022 report, the Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the accidents that occurred in the coal mines of Balochistan. The report stated that the risks faced by coal miners have increased due to the use of outdated mining methods, obsolete technology, and insufficient safety equipment.

The Human Rights Commission called on the government to ensure that the federal government implements the laws of the International Labor Organization at the global level to protect the labourers and especially the miners.

Commissioner Mines Anwar Jan Mandukhail, who works for the welfare of workers working in coal mines on behalf of the Balochistan government, says that the government spends a fund of 60 lakh every year for the health and basic medical care of the workers.

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 “For the safety and welfare of the workers, we have deployed a staff of 150 nurses, doctors and teachers. They serve in twenty-five dispensaries in different districts, a 25-bed hospital in Marwar and a BHO in Mach.”

Miners are to blame: owners

Saifullah Tareen, owner of a private mine in Harnai says: “The workers inside the mine often spend hours there and use lighters to make tea or smoke cigarettes. Unfortunately, this can cause the gas in the mine to explode, resulting in both financial and human losses.”

Saif Tareen says that although they provide basic safety equipment (helmets, masks, etc.) to the miners. Additionally, the government should also make arrangements for training the workers.

"The number of accidents can also be reduced if the miners are aware of the avoiding measures during mining to avoid accidents.”

On the contrary, Tahir Habib, former Vice Chairman of HRCP Balochistan, disagrees with Saif Tareen's words.

He says that most accidents are caused by suffocation and explosion due to the gases accumulation. He further adds that the trolley used to bring out the coal also causes accidents. If the weak rope breaks, the trolley will slide rapidly downwards and crush the working miners or crash into a rock resulting in the accidents of the miners inside it.

 “The entire fault lies with the mine owner and the contractor, as they are responsible for the blasting, provision of trolley pulling ropes and other safety arrangements for the excavation.”

He says that the management is also responsible for periodically checking the mines to avoid accidents.

Published on 21 Mar 2024

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Asim Ahmed hails from Quetta, he has been in journalism since 2015. He reports on human rights, environment, economy and extremism.

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