PESHAWAR: Thousands of miners from different districts of Malakand division have been stranded in Sindh and Balochistan for two weeks due to the lockdown enforced to stem the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
Complaining about shortage of food and drinking water, they say they will die of starvation even if they survive the virus.
Majority of these miners belong to Shangla district, which provides most of the workforce to dig coalmines across the country. The others are from Dir and Swat districts.
Miners told Dawn over the phone that thousands of them had been stranded either in Lakhra area of Sindh and on the outskirts of Quetta city in Balochistan and couldn’t return to hometowns due to lockdown, so things were extremely difficult for them.
Fatah Gul, a miner from Alpuri area of Shangla district, who is trapped in Lakhra area of Jamshoro district, said the coalmines had been closed for 13 days due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Say they’ll die of starvation if not coronavirus
He said most miners were employed by contractors, who had returned to Karachi and Hyderabad, leaving them to fend for themselves.
The miner said around 10,000 people worked in coalmines but many of them left for home soon after the lockdown was enforced.
He said around 5,000 miners had got stuck in own camps in Lakhra and suffered from the shortage of food and drinking water.
“If it is not due to coronavirus, then the hunger and thirst is going to kill us,” he said.
Mr Gul said miners were provided by contractor with ration on a monthly basis but the former had been facing problems since the latter’s departure.
He asked the KP government to arrange buses for them.
“The rent-a-car service providers charge three people Rs50,000-Rs60,000 for travel to Shangla, so we’re unable to pay that big amount,” he said.
Mohammad Javed, another miner from Alpuri area, who is stuck in a camp on the outskirts of Quetta, said all roads were closed causing food shortage for them.
He said the lockdown was enforced suddenly suspending all kinds of traffic and therefore, miners were unable to leave for homes.
The miner complained that the rent-a-car companies charged two people Rs30,000 for travel to Peshawar. He said poor labourers were unable to pay huge charges.
“Around 3,000 coalminers from Shangla and other districts are stuck on the outskirts of Quetta,” he said.
Mohammad Tufail, another miner from Chakesar area of Shangla, who is currently in Quetta city, said majority of coalminers belong to Shangla district, which provides for more than 70 per cent of workforce digging mines across the country.
He said being daily wagers, the miners had nowhere to go due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
The miner asked KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, who also belongs to Malakand division, to come to the help of him and others in the difficult hour.
KP labour minister Shaukat Ali Yousafzai, who also belongs to Shangla district, has written letters to the chief ministers of Sindh and Balochistan seeking remedial measures and helping safe return of stranded coalminers.
“I found this opportunity to bring to your kind notice, the miserable condition of thousands of coalminers and other workers of my constituency Shangla, KP, who are stranded in various areas of Sindh including Hyderabad, Lakhra, Kashmor and various parts of Balochistan owing to lockdown in the wake of coronavirus epidemic,” the letter read.
Mr Yousafzai said that workers were constantly calling him complaining that neither the contractors were paying them their wages nor providing them with ration in these testing times.
“They are begging and crying helplessly,” he said, adding that besides they were also unable to return to their homes due to transport ban.
Mr Yousafzai asked both chief ministers to provide stranded coalminers with food, medical facilities and compensation.
He also sought strict action against employers of miners and the immediate payment of wages and early safe return of the latter to hometowns.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020