The winter breeze is far less cold than the shiver that passes
down the spine of a miner, right before he's killed down a coal
shaft as he digs fuel for boilers to heat up thousands of
Three separate colliery blasts in two days claimed 78 lives and
six coal-mine accidents in the country's biggest coal producer
Shanxi Province killed more than 100 miners in just a month.
Outrage is far from enough to describe what we feel about the
coal pit owners' disregard for the lives of miners when it has been
found that almost all disasters could have been avoided had the
owners seriously observed safety rules and local governments
performed their duties to shut down the substandard ones.
All three coal mines that had gas blasts had expired production
permits. The one in the city of Qujing, in southwest China's Yunnan
Province, was among those published in the major papers as being
closed. But the local government substituted a smaller mine for
this one and was found to have played such games with more than 20
In the nationwide coal mining safety overhaul last year, nearly
5,000 officials at various levels were said to have withdrawn their
stakes of nearly 500 million yuan (US$63 million) from private coal
Cutting the connections between government officials and private
coal pit owners was believed to be a way to get rid of the
umbrellas sheltering illegal mining activities, and thus reduce the
number of disastrous accidents.
The slack management and behind-the-scenes collaboration between
some local civil servants and coal pit owners exposed by the most
recent frequent disastrous blasts demonstrated the complicated
scenario in this sector.
The description by Li Yizhong, director of the State
Administration of Work Safety, that "grass-roots government
officials would work out schemes to get around the policies of the
higher authorities" may scratch where it indeed itches.
It is quite probable that some officials still maintain
connections with mine owners even after the campaign forcing them
to withdraw their interest.
Whatever the situation, it is no easy job to stop local
officials from getting involved in coal production, and neither is
it enough to solve this problem using this approach only.
Probably, union-like organizations among coal miners may
constitute another important force to stop pit owners and their
collaborators from going too far in compromising safety rules.
With mining trade unions, a supervision mechanism operated by
the watchdog and government policy to prohibit officials from
getting involved, the safety situation in coal production will
(China Daily November 29, 2006)