A day after 23 coal miners lost their lives in two deadly explosions in Quetta, the miners’ union took to the streets. They demanded that miners be inducted in the rescue force.
“Our existing rescue force is good for body count alone,” said the president of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, Sultan Muhammad. “Miners should be employed as rescue workers for better rescue operations.”
Protesters held placards, which contained their demands. They said that coal miners are working in unsafe conditions. They demanded compensation for the families of the victims. “The government leases out the mines and the owners hand them over to contractors,” said Muhammad. “The contractors make the miners work on their terms.”
It should be ascertained whether the incident occurred due to a gas explosion or a blast was conducted on purpose, he said.
“The CJ should take notice of the deaths so that such incidents can be prevented,” said Muhammad. He demanded that coal miners be provided safety and facilities.
Pinning the blame
Iftikhar Ahmed Khan, the chief inspector of mines, blamed the miners’ negligence for the deaths. According to him, most accidents occur when workers step into the mines after their day off.
“Miners stop their work in the evening on Thursdays,” he said. “They take a complete day off on Friday as well. Gas accumulates during this time in the mines. Then, on Saturday, when they begin their work, they don’t check the gas level in the mines and accidents occur.”
Another reason is that contractors are handed over the affairs of the mines, he said. “During the contract period, the contractors try to get as much coal as possible without caring for the lives of miners,” he said. “Mines Act is a century old and the punishments in it are also quite lenient.”
Death toll 23
The death toll of miners who were killed in coal mine-related accidents in Balochistan reached 23 Sunday.
One of the accidents occurred in Marwaarh, 45 kilometres (28 miles) east of Quetta, from where 16 deaths have so far been reported. The second accident happened 30 kilometres from Quetta near PMDC, in which seven miners have died.
The bodies were fished out of the Marwaarh coal mine after nine hours. Twelve miners were unconscious. Rescue staff took them to Civil Hospital, Quetta.
Doctors said the miners brought to them were suffering from breathing problems.
According to one of the miners, the explosion took place at 10:30am while rescue teams reached them by 3:30pm. “If there were any safety measures in place, our people wouldn’t be at hospitals,” he said.
Another miner said there was no air in the mines. “Our bosses just want coal from us,” he said.
A number of miners are still trapped inside the mine located near PMDC.
“The roof caved in following an explosion triggered by the accumulation of methane gas, killing 16 miners and wounding nine others, two of them seriously”, Jawaid Shahwani, the top government official in Quetta, told AFP about the collapse in Marwaarh.
Shahwani said 25 workers were inside the mine when the explosion occurred, adding that all the injured miners had been rescued and taken to hospital. “We are trying our best to recover bodies but it will take time as most of the bodies are buried very deep”, he said.
Pakistani mines are notorious for poor safety standards and bad ventilation. At least 43 workers were killed in March 2011 when explosions triggered a collapse in a coal mine in Balochistan, which has battled separatist insurgents and Islamist militants for more than a decade.
*With additional input from AFP