Many accident-prone small-scale coalmines are still operating despite a nationwide campaign aimed at closing such mines down, according to the results of a recent high-level inspection.
The work of shutting these mines down is progressing very slowly, Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, was quoted by the People's Daily as saying yesterday.
The authorities launched the crackdown on unsafe small mines in response to the growing frequency of deadly colliery accidents in recent years.
The crackdown targets mines with an annual production capacity of less than 30,000 tons. Such mines are to be either shut down or merged to form bigger ones.
Li urged those provinces that have fallen behind in their efforts to shut down small-scale operators to speed up their work.
The minister and his colleagues recently inspected 10 provinces and municipalities to make sure the crackdown was proceeding apace.
They found that many local government officials had not bothered to enforce the shut-down order and did not have any measures in place to prevent small mines from opening again.
The inspection team that visited northwest China's Shaanxi Province, which Li himself led, found that provincial officials had only shut down about half of the small mines that should have been closed last year.
The province had targeted 80 mines for closure last year, but only managed to follow through on 44 of them.
The remaining mines were claimed to have been awaiting mergers with other mines, the paper reported.
However, a mine in Hancheng that had been ordered closed in 1999 opened again last July. A gas explosion there in February this year killed two people and injured another two.
The inspection team ordered provincial officials to do more to ensure that all of the small mines on the list were shut down by the end of this year.
In southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, only 33 of the 175 mines that had been targeted for closure last year were shut down.
To prevent these mines from starting up operations again, the inspection team suggested bringing forward Chongqing's closure deadline from the end of this year to the end of next month.
The authorities have attributed the high frequency of accidents at the country's mines to the spread of illegal small-scale operations, collusion between unscrupulous mine-owners and local officials and lax management standards.
The strong demand for coal has proved a strong incentive for some mine-owners to flout the rules.
Li said about 70 percent of colliery accidents occur at small mines, which often rely on primitive techniques and inadequate safety facilities.
"These life-devouring traps must be stamped out as soon as possible," Li said last November, after a series of serious coal mine accidents occurred within the space of just four days.
Altogether, nearly 6,000 small coalmines have been shut so far. About the same number should be closed during the coming two years.
Mining accidents killed 4,746 last year, or 20 percent less than in the year before.
(China Daily February 16, 2007)