Editorial - Deadly mines - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=37534&Cat=8

xThere appear to be no survivors of the disaster at a mine in Sorrange, Balochistan. The death toll is put at 45, with 29 bodies recovered by late Monday. The cause of the explosion that ripped through the shaft on Sunday has been identified as a build-up of gas which ignited, as evidenced by the severely burned condition of many of the bodies recovered. Those who were not burned to death, suffocated. Rescue work had to be halted for some time as the rescuers were themselves overcome by noxious gasses. Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said that the owners of the mine had been warned in the past of the danger they were placing their workers in by their failure to provide proper ventilation. Warnings and advice had been ignored, said Durrani. And the owners of the mine are? None other than the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation.

Nobody can pretend that mining is anything other than a dangerous occupation. Miners – usually poor manual workers at the bottom of the social ladder and even further down the pay leagues – have paid with their lives for the privilege of hauling out of the ground that which makes their employers wealthy. Those who operate the mines seek to cut costs and maximise profits, with inevitable consequences. Legislation designed to protect miners is flouted everywhere – the Chileans so dramatically and successfully rescued last year were the victims of a penny-pinching mine-owner. Our mines, particularly in Balochistan, have a dismal safety record. Legislation designed to protect the miners is hopelessly out of date. We have the West Pakistan Hazardous Occupations Rules 1963 which provides some protection but our primary legislation is the Mines Act of 1923. Given that we are likely to be embarking on substantial new mining operations in the not-far future in the Thar coalfields and Reko-Dik, now is the time to revisit a swathe of safety and mining legislation. It is simply unacceptable that the principal law covering mining is 88 years old and inherited from a colonial power whose own exploitation of poor labourers for maximum profit was the stuff of legend. The 45 who died in Balochistan probably did so because the mine-owner – the state – cared little for their welfare or safety, and their deaths set a new benchmark for culpable negligence.

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