JANUARY 23, 2019
When we read our constitution, we get a sense that the state does not discriminate among its citizens insofar as their right to life is concerned. The state also recognises among principles of policy promotion of social justice and economic wellbeing (sections 37 and 38) of the citizens. But when we shift our attention to the real world of people, interests, resources, and the political economy existing around their interactions, we figure that not every citizen gets to exercise their right to life, and the state continues to fail in upholding its principles of policy vis-à-vis social justice and economic wellbeing particularly for those existing on the margins of the society and the economy.
The case of mine field workers in Balochistan is a reminder of this failure of our state institutions. There is provincial department of mines and minerals resources that is directly responsible for work conditions in mines. Then, there are several other provincial and federal bodies that ought to ensure decent work environments. Despite these bureaucracies, we continue to get reports of deaths of miners in accidents. The latest happened this Monday in Dukki district. Three lives were lost as the coal mine collapsed due to gas explosion. Three others remain trapped at the explosion site, awaiting rescue efforts. Four workers had diedin a similar accident in the same area earlier this month.
The statistics provided to the media by the provincial Mines and Minerals Development Department suggest that over 1,000 coal miners have died in workplace accidents in mines across Balochistan in the last 18 years.
The government machinery in Quetta and Islamabad needs to initiate an overhaul of its facilities. After every accident, reports emerge of mine workers’ unions complaining about lack of rescue efforts, or delayed response. These complaints must be taken seriously, and those responsible for rescue operations taken to task for negligence.
The troubling aspect here is that there is absolutely no public outcry as news of deaths in accidents keep pouring in every now and then. Civil society actors raise their voice and urge the authorities to ensure safe working conditions at mines, but their seminars and workshops remain unable to push state institutions concerned to take responsibility for the task. This necessitates a rethinking of strategy at the part of these civil society actors because the fact of the matter is that all their emphasis on advocacy and stakeholder engagement has failed to bring about any concrete change in the attitude of government officials and the conditions in which miners work.
Perhaps, the civil society organisations concerned ought to pay less attention to working with the authorities – a top-down model of reform – and instead focus on building grassroots alliances of mine workers – a bottoms-up approach. This may help them build a movement through which they can push state institutions to be diligent in performance of their regulatory tasks and contractors profiting from the labour of coal miners to adopt ethical business practices.
Political parties in the province have also yet to raise the issue effectively in the corridors of power. The parties in power and in opposition in the provincial assembly must jointly take up the issue and use the parliamentary forum to push for necessary reforms. Balochistan has many grievances against the federation, and its political parties are rightly taking those up with the powers that be in Islamabad. However, the plight of mine workers of the province is a matter that involves negligence of the government machinery from top to the bottom, meaning Islamabad and Quetta are both to blame. And, therefore, provincial political parties would do well to begin fixing the issue at the home turf until they can push for changes needed at the federal level. *
Published in Daily Times, January 23rd2019.