ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has asked Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments to file replies on a petition moved to highlight deaths of mine workers, especially the fatalities of 327 coal miners in Balochistan and Darra Adam Khel from 2010 to 2018.

The court issued notices to the respondents when human rights activists Usama Khawar Ghumman, Zafar Iqbal Kalanauri and Ali Javed Darugar pleaded before the apex court to take cognizance of the issue by exercising its suo motu power.

The petitioners has pleaded in court to appoint a commission to probe into the deaths of 327 coal miners in Balochistan, especially the killing of nine miners in Darra Adam Khel on Sept 12.

318 miners have died in 45 incidents in Balochistan alone

They argued that the commission so formed should consist of eminent labour experts from the relevant government departments and civil society and financed by the provincial governments.

The commission should be tasked to suggest precautionary measures to be adopted by coal mines to prevent accidents in future, they suggested.

They submitted that dying in a coal mine was one of the worst deaths imaginable. They highlighted the need for a better workplace protection to coal miners than currently being given.

The petitioners highlighted at least 45 incidents of painful death of 318 coal miners in Balochistan from 2010 to 2018 and submitted that fatalities in the coal mining sector in Pakistan were becoming far too common. Thus there is a dire need for better labour protections, it said.

Just in the first eight months of 2018, at least 50 miners have died in Balochistan and in the last one month of August, 17 coal miners perished in two separate incidents. Likewise, 15 miners died on Aug 12 due to an explosion in a coal mine in Sanjdi area of Balochistan. Similarly, on Sept 2, two labourers suffocated to death in Machh in Kachhi district of Balochistan.

The petition has been sent not only to Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar but also to other judges of the Supreme Court.

The petitioners also asked the court to seek reports from the mines and mineral development secretary and director general, respectively, chief inspector of mines and commissioner of the mines labour welfare in Balochistan.

They stated that the report should also explain how many times inspections to mines have been carried out by the chief inspectors, mines, in the province in the last eight years. The inquiry reports must also include as to how many inspected mines had been found to be compliant with the health and safety requirements mandated by the relevant mining laws and that how many persons had been prosecuted under the Mining Act for failing to take safety measures in the period 2010 to 2018.

The petitioners also asked the court to assign responsibility and liability 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 due to criminal negligence or for not performing their statutory duties.

They also asked the court to assign responsibility and liability of mine owners, agents or managers for failing to take necessary measures for ensuring safety of miners.

The petitioners asked the court to direct the mines director general to file a report indicating the number of licences that had been cancelled under Rule 57 read with Rule 31(1)(b) of the Balochistan Mineral Rules 2002. The petitioners also asked implementation of the Balochistan Mineral Rules 2002 in letter and spirit and cancel the licences of leaseholders who had failed to discharge their obligations under such rules.

The Supreme Court should also initiate and pursue criminal proceedings against the responsible and liable persons and order the provincial governments to constitute inquiry courts of competent persons under Section 21 of the Mines Act in all the cases of “accidental explosion, ignition, outbreak of fire or irruption of water or other accidents” that have occurred in the period between 2010 and 2018 in which 318 labourers have died.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2018