Tariq Aziz

SHANGLA: It was not less than a doomsday for us when the bodies of my father and uncle were brought at our home the same day. But it is not the story only bout our home, as many houses in our area have endured a similar situation.

This was stated by 23-year-old Ikram from Shangla, who along with his brother works at a coalmine in Quetta for the last three years. Ikram is in his village in Shangla to spend Ramazan holidays.

The remote Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is poor economically as there are very few job opportunities. Most of the area is mountainous and only 32 percent land. Most of the youth had to work in coalmines and in many cases they did not return home alive.

According to Coalmines Workers Welfare Association (CMWA), an association working for welfare of coalmine workers in Shangla, 123 coalmine workers have lost their lives in Pakistan since March last year out of whom 97 belonged to Shangla.

Ikram says due to poverty and unemployment, many youth in Shangla risk their lives and start work in coalmines. He says despite the death of his father and uncle in a coalmine blast, he, his brother and cousin are working in the same coalmine.

“Several people from our area have lost their lives in coalmine blasts, but we cannot let our families starve. We have no other option. We believe that a day is specified for death and that cannot change,” he said while talking to TNN.

Ikram, like many others in his area, has left everything to destiny and working in the coalmine to earn livelihood. He says there are no proper safety arrangements in the coalmine as such.

Jani Malik, another person from Shangla who is working in coalmines for last several years, says he knows the chances of survival in such coalmines are little. However, he said, the remuneration of coalminers is better than other labours that is why he is doing this job.

“Several workers die in coalmine blasts routinely, but those in power seem least bothered,” he told TNN.

Rehman Zeb is another such worker who became permanently disabled after an accident at a coalmine.

“I am lying on bed for the last 13 years. The company initially gave me some help and then disappeared. Since then, I am living with the assistance of other people,” he said.

Despite seeing the fate of Rehman Zeb, his brother is also risking his life and working in a coalmine. Rehman Zeb said there is no other option with his brother to feed his family.

Musa Yousafzai, a local journalist, says coalmine workers are not being given clean food, water or any other facility. He says it is the responsibility of the manager to check gas leakage, and stops work in case of danger, but nothing of sorts happens in Pakistani coalmines.

Dr Latifur Rehman, who provided treatment to coalmine workers for 25 years, says due to hazardous work, the coalmine workers contract chest diseases and hepatitis. He says the backache continues even after the miners quit work.

The Labour Federation leader Haji Amanullah also partly blames the coalmine workers for their difficulties. He says the Labour Union has agreement with all coalmine contractors under which some facilities are guaranteed for the workers, but the miners still work with contractors with lower remuneration. He said there are some facilities at coalmines in Hyderabad, but the situation is worst in Darra Adamkhel, Hangu and Punjab.

An official of Inspectorate of Mining told TNN on condition of anonymity that the performance of the department is zero. He said awareness about safety measures is vital for the workers. He said about 3,000 coalmine workers from Shangla died from the period of 2000 to 2018, but the concerned authorities remained least bothered. He appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the poor condition of coalmine workers and correct the state of affairs.