Mine safety continues to be a lapse in public interest throughout Pakistan, tying into a broader issue of worker rights particularly with regards to regulation around worker safety. The recent rockslide at Mohmand Marble Mine in KPK Province that killed 22 people is Pakistan’s most recent mining disaster.
Mining disasters are not isolated to this incident: Pakistan’s history is peppered with similar incidences that illustrate safety negligence across provinces. The Mohmand accident is certainly not the first of its kind. Earlier this year, a similar accident occurred in Buner district where nine workers were killed and fourteen injured. The year 2020 has additionally seen the death of a coal miner in a trolley collision, and another in a landslide in which five others were trapped in Duki, Balochistan. Miners were killed in Margat coal field, Tirah and Darra Adamkhel due to mine collapses. Electrocutions and death by poisonous gas have contributed to more miners losing their lives. According to Industri-All Union, more than 430 miners have been killed since 2010 in mining accidents owing to breaches of mine safety standards. Reports from labour welfare organisations, including the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, as well as the media suggest that each year hundreds of miners perish in mining accidents. These deaths are a result of outdated and under-regulated mining practices used by a majority of mining companies.
Mine safety in Pakistan is regulated by the Mines Act of 1923. Under this statute the Provinces are required to establish mine safety standards, and Chief Inspectors or Inspectors of Mines appointed under the Act are required to make regular inspection visits to mine operations to ensure adherence to safety standards. However, there is clear negligence from mine owners as well as relevant Provincial Governments. Had there been any implementation of the laws even as they exist, many of the mining accidents resulting in tragedies could have been averted. The Coal Mines Regulations, 1926, only applicable to coal mines, also provide for safety mechanisms to be adopted by mining operations, however, these are rarely, if ever, enforced by the relevant government authorities. A lack of training, enforcement of structurally sound safety procedures and healthcare for mine-related illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma and other lung diseases pervade the mining sector.
Disregard for mine safety and occupational health and safety standards is a blatant contravention of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It is a breach of the miners’ rights to security of person under Article 9 as it dangerously puts their lives at risk and in some cases results in deaths.
Although the Mines Act of 1923 sets out certain minimum mine safety standards, it requires further, detailed regulations to be adopted by the Provincial Governments. This, unfortunately, has yet to be achieved in full. Had this been the case, all the mining accidents that occurred during the past few years could have been potentially avoided if they were regularly inspected by well-qualified Inspectors and if properly enacted rules and regulations had enforced against unsafe practices in a timely manner. At the very minimum, implementation and enforcement of already enacted laws, rules and regulations by themselves could potentially have averted tragedy. Furthermore, Pakistan has failed to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (Convention C176). A first step towards adopting global best practices is the ratification of this convention.
In the absence of thorough mine safety standards enacted and enforced by Provincial Governments, and failure of enforcement of already enacted laws, rules and regulations, mining companies rarely adopt their own standards for the health and safety of their workers, neither in underground mines or above-ground operations. One project, perhaps the only one of its scale in the country, that has indeed done so is the Thar coal project under the management of Engro and operated in partnership with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Sindh Government. This in in stark contrast to most other mines where there are no Government checks on safety SOPs, no access to healthcare for miners, and frequent deaths and injuries. The project serves as an example of international mine safety best practices applied to our local context, which can be expanded nationally with the correct enforcement and oversight.
PILAP’s Work on Relevant RTIs
PILAP condemns the breach of miners’ rights caused by unregulated and unsafe mining practices, as well as the disregard for their rights caused by non-provision of occupational health and safety mechanisms. We call upon both Federal and Provincial Governments to regulate and enforce best practices in mine safety standards used in the mining industry internationally. Under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, PILAP requested information from the KPK Minerals Development Department at the provincial level and the Ministry of Energy at the federal level to understand what was done by both levels of government to ensure mine worker safety in Mohmand particularly, and in Pakistan’s mining sector generally. As per the constitutional right to information granted by Article 19A of the Constitution, PILAP seeks to understand if the Provincial Government of KPK implemented appropriate safety measures under the Mines Act of 1923; if the Chief Inspector of Mines or Inspector of Mines ensured mine safety by regularly conducting safety inspections; if the Mohmand mine followed a regulator-approved mine design; whether there is a mechanism to ensure that mine designs conform to industry-approved safety standards; and if the mining company took any proactive/preventative measures to protect its people and assets from a slope failure in the case of any identified geotechnical issues associated with the construction of the mine. In its RTI application addressed to the Ministry of Energy PILAP has sought to understand the measures taken by the Federal Government to ratify the ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (Convention C176) as well as the reasons for the non-ratification of this Convention to date.