Working long hours and often in gruesome conditions, mine workers lead a rough life but it pales in comparison to the life that donkeys, who work in coal mines, lead.
In Chakwal district of Punjab, which has more than 500 coal mines, thousands of donkeys work alongside daily wage labourers, as they are used to transport coal. In the course of their work and aided by the treatment they are given, hundreds of animals lose their lives but the provincial government has neither strengthened animal welfare laws nor shown any regard for the conditions the animals work in.
Rab Nawaz, a contractor working at a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah, told The Express Tribune that a coal mining team consists of four people and generally five or six donkeys are relied upon. “Two men collect the coal inside the mine, one person loads the coal on the animals, while the fourth person brings the coal out with the help of the animals,” Nawaz explained, adding that roughly 3 to 5 tons of coal is extracted every day. According to information obtained by The Express Tribune, in the various mines across Chakwal district, roughly 8,500 donkeys are being used out of which about 350 die every year.
Rana Muhammad Nawaz, a mining contractor in Choa Saidan Shah, commenting on the high number of animals dying every year, said that despite the income of labourers being connected with the donkeys no compensation is given by the government if someone’s donkey does. However, as per an animal rights group, the loss of income is not as big an issue as the high donkey mortality rates.
The advocacy manager of the group, whilst talking to The Express Tribune informed that they had surveyed around two hundred mines in Chakwal district regarding the treatment of donkeys. “55% of the owners say that there is no immediate safety and medical aid equipment in the coal mines, while 92% said that there is equipment for human medical aid but none for animals,” he said, “16% of the donkeys working in the coal mines are visually impaired, 50% of the donkeys are physically weak while 49% of the donkeys are prone to skin disease.” The manager further informed that in 90% of the mines there is no clean water for the donkeys to drink and are given water which is often days old and contaminated. “The government should ensure health and safety measures for the animals working in coal mines. First aid kits should be made mandatory for miners and animals and the Department of Minerals should arrange regular inspections of mines. Likewise, the Livestock Department should increase the number and scope of Animal Health Mobile Dispensaries,” the manager suggested when asked what the government could do to decrease donkey deaths. Kiran Butt, Deputy Director and Spokesperson of the Department of Minerals, Punjab, when asked about the implementation of the suggestions, said that the government auctions contracts of coal mines and then contractors are responsible for the workers and animals.
“Despite this, teams of the Punjab Labour Department and Mines Commissioners continue to inspect these mines. Furthermore, mobile dispensaries for animals of Punjab Livestock visit mines regularly. If there is an epidemic in the animals, veterinary experts of Punjab Livestock are also engaged,” Butt told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2022.
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