THERE appears to be no end in sight to the plight of coal miners working in a largely unregulated sector. Not only do the colliers work in appalling and unsafe conditions, made worse by the apathetic attitude of the mine owners, they are also vulnerable to attacks carried out by non-state actors.

The recent killing of three Afghan coal miners in the Zalawan area of Balochistan’s Harnai district indicates as much. The miners were killed in the dead of night by unidentified gunmen who escaped after carrying out the attack. In a similar incident in August, three colliers were shot dead in the Marwar coal field near Quetta.

Last week, HRCP officials aired their concern about colliers becoming a soft target for non-state actors in Balochistan. The officials had also expressed concern over the generally deplorable working conditions in the country’s coal mines.

The sector largely operates outside the bounds of the law which was one of the reasons why HRCP officials had stressed that the government implement the Mines Act 1923 while also taking steps to regulate and modernise the coal-mining sector.

The rights body highlighted the fact that compensation for death or injury to the miners was lower in Balochistan than in other provinces. In Balochistan, the compensation amount is around Rs300,000 while it is Rs500,000 in the rest of the country. Poverty drives the coal miners to work in incredibly harsh conditions for an amount that is even less than the minimum wage.

A large number of these workers comprise illegal migrants from Afghanistan which makes it easier for contractors and mine owners to exploit the colliers.

It is simply unacceptable that more than 104 colliers, according to the Pakistan Coal Mines and Labour Federation, have been killed in various incidents in Balochistan so far this year. The Balochistan government needs to take concrete steps for the implementation of mining laws while also empowering the provincial mines department to carry out regular inspections of the mines.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2021

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