Responding to the woefully inadequate safety and rescue mechanisms in place for miners in the province, the Balochistan Assembly passed a bill that would raise the excise duty on mining for the first time since 1923 and allocate funds specifically towards developing safety and rescue mechanisms for miners.
The provincial legislature passed the Balochistan Mines (Amendment) Bill 2011 which raises the excise duty from three paisa per ton to Rs5 per ton. The tax, which was first levied in 1923 and has not been changed since, has also been renamed the “duty for safety/rescue/training”.
The move comes after the provincial government came under severe criticism for not having adequate resources or trained manpower to rescue miners who were trapped due to an accident at a coalmine in Sorange. At least 43 miners died as a result of that accident on March 20.
With the addition revenues, the government plans to purchase mine safety and rescue equipment, in addition to maintaining a rescue station. The provincial government will also conduct safety training workshops for miners on daily wage contracts to help create awareness of safety techniques and minimise mining accidents.
The provincial government, however, has not made it clear how much is expected to be raised as a result of the new tax.
Electricity from Iran
In the meantime, legislators expressed frustration at the federal government’s inaction towards a resolution unanimously passed earlier by the Balochistan Assembly, advocating an increase in the import of electricity from Iran for the Makran district.
The coastal district, which includes the port city of Gwadar, currently imports 35 megawatts from Iran but suffers from a chronic power shortage that result in blackouts lasting 12 hours every day. Tehran has offered to increase its supply to alleviate the crisis, but Islamabad has not yet responded, leading to expressions of exasperation in Quetta.
“The government is going around the world with a begging bowl in its hand but it is not responding to a standing offer from one of our neighbours,” said Mir Abdul Rehman Mengal, the provincial minister for mines and minerals.
Members of the Balochistan National Party Awami said that they planned to launch a sit-in protest in Islamabad at what they perceive as the indifference of the federal government. BNP legislators were joined in their outrage by members of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.
Speaker Aslam Bhootani, however, suggested that there may be issues in renewing and revising the agreement with Iran which is causing the delay.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2011.