By Atta Kakar
“My cousin’s dead body was extracted after 40 days, but we are still waiting for the dead body of my brother. We know they are no longer alive, but we just want the body for proper identification and burial.”
This is a statement by Abdul Bashir, the brother of Abdul Baqi and cousin of Sharaf Khan, regarding the two laborers who were trapped in the Meraj Coal mine on May 4.
On Wednesday night, the dead body of one of the laborers, Abdul Baqi, was finally extracted after one and a half months.
Muhammad Younis, the eyewitness who survived the incident narrates, “It happened on May 4 when it suddenly started raining and hailing heavily. Three of us were working inside the mine and we didn’t know about the rain inside”
He further explains, “I filled the coal and signaled to the engine driver above to pull up the trolley by ringing the bell, but despite several attempts, there was no response from him, I came up and saw that it was raining due to which water was entering the nearby mine.”
According to Yunus, the engine driver was preventing water from entering the nearby coal mine. I signaled by the two workers who were stuck below to come up with the help of a bell, but before they could come up, the water went into the coalmine and they both got stuck down.
Sabir Shah, Mines Inspector of the area says “Tunnels are dug between the coal mines for the flow of air and oxygen, which is called ‘Hawai’. The rainwater entered the nearby coal mine in the form of a relay from where the water was blown to the affected mine and two miners were trapped.”
Mr. Sabir explains that due to the water, the soil has become muddy, making the task of removing the debris more difficult. Additionally, the timber used to support the mine is causing problems and needs to be cut.
He mentioned that the main challenge is the ongoing leakage of water from the roof and sides. As the workers progress forward, more debris falls from behind, resulting in a longer cleaning process.”
Coal mines in Balochistan and coal miners’ grievance
According to the reports of the All Pakistan Labor Federation, there are currently over 3,800 active coal mines in Balochistan. These mines employ over 100,000 workers who extract more than 10 million tons of coal annually.
The coal mined from Balochistan constitutes more than 50% of the total coal production in Pakistan each year.
According to data from the Minerals Department of Balochistan, the seven districts of Balochistan, including Loralai, Daki, Bolan, and Ziarat, hold a total of 268 million tons of coal.
According to Commissioner Mines Anwar Jan Mandukhel, who is dedicated to the welfare of the workers, the Balochistan government allocates a fund of 60 lakhs every year for the health and basic medical assistance of the workers. This provision enables the establishment of 25 dispensaries in various districts of Balochistan. Additionally, health facilities are available at a 25-bed hospital in Marwar and a BHO (Basic Health Unit) in Mach.
Lala Sultan, the General Secretary of the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation, has stated that the number of coal mines is being undercounted. This is because numerous coal mine contractors in Balochistan are extracting coal without proper registration. As a result, not only are thousands of tons of coal being sold without paying any taxes, but accidents that occur in these unregistered mines are often hidden or not reported.
According to Lala Sultan, in the year 2022, a total of 288 miners lost their lives in accidents throughout Pakistan. Out of these, the highest number of fatalities, 166 miners, were from Balochistan.
In its report in 2023, The Human Rights Commission expressed concern in its “Facts Finding report over the situation of the coal miners in Balochistan, and demanded of both the provincial and federal government to minimize the concerning
issues of the coal miners.