ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was requested on Saturday to take cognizance of deaths of mine workers and, by invoking its suo motu jurisdiction, order the constitution of a judicial commission to inquire into the fatalities of 318 coal miners in Balochistan during the past eight years.

Usama Khawar, a lawyer who did his LLM in international human rights law from Columbia University and is also a labour rights activist, in his application pleaded that the commission headed by an eminent labour expert and consisting of experts from relevant government departments and civil society and financed by the Balochistan government should also suggest precautionary measures to be adopted by coal mines to prevent accidents in the future.

The applicant contended that dying in a coal mine was one of the worst deaths imaginable. It highlighted the need of a better workplace protection to coal miners.

Highlighting at least 45 incidents of painful death of 318 coal miners from 2010 to 2018, he said fatalities in the coal mining sector were becoming far too common.

Just in the first eight months of this year, at least 50 miners have died in Balochistan and in August alone, 17 coal miners lost their lives in two separate incidents. In an explosion in a coal mine in the Sanjdi area of Balochistan, 15 miners died on Aug 12, while two labourers suffocated to death in Mach in Kachhi district on Sept 2.

In the application, which has been sent not only to Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, but also to other judges of the Supreme Court, the applicant pleaded to seek reports from the mines and mineral development secretary of Baloch­istan, the director general of mines and minerals, the Balochistan chief inspector of mines and the mines labour welfare commissioner of Balochistan.

The reports should also explain how many times inspections to mines have been carried out by the chief inspectors in the province in the last eight years. The inquiry reports must also include as to how many inspected mines have been found to be compliant with the health and safety requirements mandated by the relevant mining laws and that how many persons have been prosecuted under the Mining Act for failing to take safety measures.

The applicant also pleaded that responsibility and liability be assigned to persons, including government officials, as well as departments, for failing to protect workers / employees of coal mines and failing to ensure that all due precautions were taken to prevent accidents, through criminal negligence or through non-performance of their statutory duties.

He has also pleaded that responsibility and liability be assigned of persons, including mine owners, agents, or managers, for failing to take necessary measures for ensuring the safety of the miners, either deliberately or through non-performance of their duties.

The applicant also asked that the mines director general be directed to submit a report, indicating the number of licences that have been cancelled under Rule 57 read with Rule 31 (1) (b) of the Balochistan Mineral Rules, 2002.

The applicant also pleaded for implementation of the Balochistan Mineral Rules, 2002, in letter and spirit and cancellation of the licences of lease-holders who have failed to discharge their obligations under such rules.

The applicant requested the court to also initiate and pursue criminal proceedings against the responsible and liable persons and order the provincial government to constitute inquiry courts of competent persons under Section 21 of the Mines Act in all the cases of “accidental explosion, ignition and outbreak of fire or irruption of water or other accidents”.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018