Senate committee looks into coal miners deaths

ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel on Monday expressed concern over the deaths of coal miners in Balochistan, insufficient safety arrangements and delayed compensations to the affected families.

The Senate Standing Committee on Petroleum discussed an accident at PMDC Collieries Degari on July 14, which claimed nine lives and left one person injured. The meeting was informed that the rescue operation was completed in 50 hours.

Balochistan’s secretary for mines and minerals told the committee that the depth of the mines, unstable electric voltage, inadequate safety measures and law and order were some of the key reasons for accidents in coal mines. He said the Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco) had been asked in writing about the low voltage on July 1 this year, and was then reminded repeatedly.

He explained that the mines had gone to 3,800 to 5,000 feet and required stable electricity for continuous operation of the exhaust fans necessary for the evacuation of hazardous gases. The secretary said that last year, 21 accidents were reported in Balochistan’s coal mines, causing 66 deaths, while 39 accidents had so far been reported this year involving 53 deaths. He said a total of 985 deaths had been reported due to such accidents since 1999.

The secretary said that workers’ associations and labour welfare organisations were required to extend Rs200,000 and Rs500,000 (per head) as compensation to the heirs of workers losing their lives in accidents. However, all these payments had been pending for five to seven years due to issues relating to the registration of workers and the establishment of their nationalities (given the fact that a large number of labour is of Afghan origin).

Takes exception to outdated laws regarding payment of compensation

The members of the committee expressed their displeasure over holding up compensations and death grants to bereaved families, for the want of technicalities, and observed that irrespective of their nationality or registration problems, systems should be improved and compensations provided to the families of deceased workers without any delay. For this, various departments of the government should improve their coordination and legal and procedural hitches should be removed. The committee observed that Afghan workers also had basic human rights that should be protected at all cost and their families be extended maximum facilitation in availing their rights.

The meeting of the committee presided over by Senator Mohsin Aziz also discussed the measures adopted for the safety and security of mine workers and facilities provided to them by the mine owners and the procedure and amount of compensation being given to the mine workers in case of death or injury during work. It also reviewed the grievances of mine owners’ associations and mine labour associations.

The committee members expressed dissatisfaction over the unsatisfactory resp­onses given by the officers concerned regarding the questions raised on the registration of Afghan nationals, the number of mine workers, the safety measures adopted and the mode of inquiries against the contractors who violate the terms, among other issues.

It was revealed that the law governing mining was made by the British in 1923 and is still extant, envisaging a maximum fine of Rs4,000. The problems in death grants, compensation, low wages and old methods of mining were also touched upon.

The committee heard the government officials as well as the representatives of owners and workers. The three sides presented contradictory information.

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