Abdul Sattar

Four miners from Shangla district have tragically lost their lives in the past week. Abid Yar, the General Secretary of the Coal Mine Workers Welfare Association in Shangla, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the rights of mining workers, shared that this year alone, 112 workers have lost their lives in various accidents. Additionally, two miners are currently fighting for their lives in a hospital in Peshawar, their fate hanging in the balance.

Among the recent victims was 23-year-old Shahidullah, a resident of Alpuri Tehsil, who lost his life in a soapstone mine accident in Abbottabad. Shah Rehman, another young man from Shangla, met his unfortunate end due to electrocution in a coal mine in Balochistan. Similarly, Ziauddin, a young man hailing from the village Pagori, succumbed to gas inhalation within a mine. Likewise, Waheed, son of Noor Hasan, a young man from village Bunr Koz Talket in Shangla, tragically lost his life while toiling away in the Dara Adamkhel Coal Mine.

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While the region of Malakand division, encompassing Shangla district, is renowned for its coal mines, a somber reality pervades. Families here have borne the heavy toll of losing loved ones to mining accidents across the country.

Shangla district, with a population of 891,252 people as per the latest census, shares its borders with Buner District, Swat, and Torghar District. An alarming statistic highlights that 75 percent of workers in Shangla district are employed in coal mines scattered across various regions of the nation. The bulk of these workers are young individuals, toiling in these hazardous conditions.

Abid Yar emphasizes that the lack of alternative employment avenues forces the youth to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and engage in perilous work within the coal mines. Tragically, thousands in Shangla district have been left disabled due to mining-related injuries. Each year, a distressing tally of 200 to 250 workers lose their lives during mining activities, with a further 20 being permanently disabled. These grim outcomes often stem from the development of lung diseases due to constant exposure to coal dust.

Abid Yar adds that the situation remains dire, with two Shangla miners currently fighting for their lives in Peshawar hospitals. Doctors are gravely concerned about their critical condition. He notes that although there was a reprieve earlier this year with fewer reported mining-related deaths, a distressing pattern of accidents has resurfaced across coal mines in different parts of the country.

Amidst this backdrop, Abid Yar calls upon the government to extend support to the families of disabled miners and ensure enhanced safety measures within coal mines. Muhammad Iqbal, the President of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa United Labor Federation, underscores a grave concern – coal miners are often deprived of proper safety equipment during their work, rendering them vulnerable to accidents. He highlights a worrying trend where mine owners prioritize their profits over the well-being of their workforce, frequently flouting safety regulations.

Muhammad Iqbal stresses that unless stringent penalties are imposed and mine owners are held accountable for the gravity of murder cases, the plight of these workers will continue to be overlooked. The current fines, ranging from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 100,000, pale in comparison to the potential earnings, leading to a cycle where the owners are willing to pay the penalty, while the workers remain exposed to constant danger.