Pakistan is the leading country in the world, where most coal mines are located. The number of registered coal mines in Pakistan is around 186 but the number of unregistered and illegal mines is in the hundreds.
The Shangla District, which is one of the most undeveloped districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, has been providing skilled laborers to the coal mine industry throughout the country since the 1980s. In returned, what has been awarded- a huge human casualties of laborers, where 30 thousand wives of coal mine workers were spending their lives as widows while more than 80 thousand of their children were become orphans, mainly as a result of non-safety measures and lack of proper training to the coal mine workers in privately owned industry.
This information was revealed by the founder president of the Coal Mines Workers Welfare Association(CMWWA), Mr. Ali Bash Khan, a resident of Shangla district, to this scribe during an interview. He said that there is no industry and no employment opportunities are available to the people here in Shangla district, “compelling above 70 percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 55 to work in the coal mines of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab” he lamented, adding that the number of these miners belonging to Shangla is more than one Lac who are working in different mines in Pakistan.
“Every year about 300 laborers of Shangla are killed in various incidents in coal mines across the country and their bodies are brought to their homes.” Mr. Khan revealed and added that more than 8000 laborers of Shangla have been disabled in mines incidents since 1982, most of whom have not been able to work for life.
Responding a question, the leader of coal mines workers pointed out that there was not a well-defined relevant law in the country that ensures safety, training and even proper compensation to families of those who are being dead during duty, “when a worker dies in an accident in coal mines in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan, only Rs.200,000 is paid by the leaseholders، while Rs.500,000 is paid in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but the government has not yet enacted proper legislation in this regard”.
Habib-ur-Rehman, a 40-year-old coal miner from Olander, a remote backward village in Shangla District, said that he has been working as a miner from the last 20 years, adding that due the poverty and lack of employment opportunities in their area they were compelled to do this difficult work.
He said that lack of proper training and equipment were the major factors of causing human losses, “coal miners dig at a depth of 4,000 feet without any proper equipment and safety” he added. “In these caves there is no way out except for oxygen and whenever there is an explosion then they have no choice but to die” he commented.
Replying to a question, Mr. Habib said that two of his uncles also died in these incidents, adding that they had no option other than to continue their association with this dangerous profession, just for the sake of their livelihood.
Haroon Bacha, a 20-year-old resident of Damorai village in Shangla district, who was disabled for life while working in a coal mine, said that It was July 2, 2019, when I was working in the Al-Badar-4 Mines of the Akhorwal National Coal Company mines in the tribal area when suddenly the mine collapsed and I was buried. “My thigh bone was broken in this accident and one of my claws became disabled for life” he added.
He said that the company compensated me in the shape of what, a minor amount of Rs.180,000 while refusing further treatment. “It is an apathy on part of the government that I am still waiting for release of Rs.300,000 sanctioned by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ” he pointed out. To a question, he said he had already filed a case against the contractors in the local court of Alpurai, which is still under process.
“International Labor Organization (ILO) laws are fully complied with all over the world, but unfortunately in Pakistan, coal mines have not yet been given industrial status and workers are not paid wages and benefits according to the same law. Even in the current era of inflation, the workers of Coal Mines still get the wages of 2007.” Ali Bash Khan concluded.