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ISLAMABAD: The All Pakistan Labour Foundation proposed the cancellation of ownership of all mines that ignore safety standards at a Senate committee meeting on Wednesday.

Nearly 50 miners have died in two months, the foundation’s president Sultan Mohammad Khan told the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, which met for a briefing on two recent mining accidents in Balochistan in which miners were killed.

On May 5, 16 mine workers died in a possible methane gas explosion at the Mir Coal Company mines in Narwari, near Quetta.

Another explosion, possibly caused by trapped gases, killed seven workers at the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) mine.

Nearly 50 miners have died in two months, Senate committee told

The Balochistan government has formed a committee to investigate the causes of the two explosions and determine who was responsible. The committee will furnish its report on June 5.

The Senate meeting was told that despite the latest technology and mining methods, more workers are dying today than they were 100 years ago. There are no safety measures being practiced inside mines, in complete disregard of workers’ lives, committee members were told.

Mr Khan said mine owners only collect rent, by sub-letting mines that are then sublet further.

“The contractors the mines are further sublet to, like the owners of the mines, are also into money-making. Neither party invests in safety measures such as strengthening the basic structure inside the mines, emergency exits, escape ducts for gases and other health precautions,” he said.

He added that rescue workers are also ill-trained and lack the capacity to perform operations after mining accidents. In all such cases, he said, miners perform rescue missions by descending deep into mines to rescue buried and trapped workers.

Mr Khan urged the committee to ensure that international labour rights are enforced.

He said families of deceased miners are compensated by mine owners and a workers’ welfare fund, but they have to wait for over two years before they are compensated.

According to a senior official from the Balochistan Minerals and Mines Department, subletting is illegal but impossible to prove if it has been done.

Mining laws, which were introduced by the British in 1923, have not been amended in the last nearly 100 years, he added.

“There are so many mines and the mining department is so understaffed that it can take up to six years before a mine is inspected again to ensure health and safety regulations have been followed,” the official said.

As a way forward, National Commission on Human Rights Chairman retired Justice Ali Chohan recommended cancelling leases to mine owners for not ensuring health and safety standards are met in a hazardous environment.

Balochistan Home Secretary Ghulam Ali Baloch echoed the suggestion: “Ownership should be cancelled if there are deaths due to negligence of mine owners.” He said this was “the only way to ensure the precious lives of workers are not lost”.

Committee chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar has decided to hold another meeting in the second week of June after the fact-finding committee submits its report.

“Until then, the committee would also like the Mines and Minerals Department to inspect as many miles as possible and furnish a report for the committee when it meets in the second week of June,” he added.

He added that mine owners had broken the law by subletting mines to contractors and by ignoring health and safety. He said owners who have broken the law could not escape penalties.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2018