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Balochistan Diary: Chamalang Coalmines fetching Gold for……

Saeed Minhas

Chamalang has many historic projections. This area was the scene of a major battlefield
between tribal separatists and Pakistan Army way back in 1974. Tribal chiefs thought
they would be able to crush the army onslaught in 1974 by assembling all their reserves
in the rugged but mineral rich mountains of Chamalang. But equipped with traditional
warfare skills and lesser arms, army managed to teach them a lesson with its artillery and
aerial superiority. Survivors including Marris, Lunis, Mengels, etc. fled to neighbouring
Afghanistan and were allowed to return only after getting a clean chit from the state
actors and state agencies.
The Marris, who have reached an agreement with the Army and Lunis for resuming the
Chamalang Coalmines, are considered as a breakaway faction of the main Marri tribes
and are facing stiff resistance from within their tribal brotherhood to cut their ties with
the army, but so far they are happy and are managing these pressures as long as the army
stays there.
This presence of huge coal reserves was first discovered by the adventurous British
Armies in 1885, when they used to use these lands for stop over either on their way to
attack Afghanistan or after sustaining repeated defeats to conquer the land—days when
great game concept surfaced for the first time to block the red armies from reaching to
warm waters.
But Chamalang reserves remained untapped till 1980s. When, somehow the work started
to dig the white mountains, tribal rivalry between Luni (Pashtuns) and Marris (Balochs)
claimed 53 lives, as Marris being the owners of the land and Lunis being peasants
developed differences over the ownership and sharing of profits. Project remained shut
for over thirty years. In the post-Bugti scenario, when Army along with the strong
presence of Frontier Constabulary (FC) had to sustain Musharraff’s iron-fist policy, they
managed to explore this ready-to-be-tapped project and thus pushed the rivals to join
hands. Finally in December 2006 a tripartite agreement under the supervision of Army
was reached in Quetta and the project started production in early 2007 again thus
allowing the economic activity in that area. Since start of 2007 more than two million
metric tons of coal has been extracted from the Chamalang coalmines (worth over Rs 8.5
billion) and more than 70 thousand people (both directly and indirectly) are employed
with that project.
As per the agreement Army gets Rs 475 per metric ton for carrying out various
developmental works and social sector programmes like education, technical education
and some dispensaries. Marris being the owners of the lands gets Rs 420 pmt, out of
which they payback Rs 220 in the name of security and social development to maintain
army and FC presence and pay for their 200 tribal levis personnel. Lunis get Rs 275 pmt
for being the stakeholders and inhabitants of the land. Other shareholders in this project
are federal government which collects Rs 100 pmt as GST, Balochistan government gets
60 pmt in the name of royalty and Re. 5 as excise duty. Average cost of coal per metric
ton is around Rs 4000 to 5000. Local officials don’t have consolidated figures, but some
of them said that roughly Pakistan Army including FC has so far collected around Rs 900
million since 2007, Marris around Rs. 800 million (out of which 420 million has been
paid for various security services and social programmes administered by Army). Lunis
seems to have fetched around Rs 500 million. Federal government around 220 million
and Balochistan government around 140 million and in EOBI form the provincial
government has so far collected another Rs 350 million from around 50,000 labourers
working directly in the mines area.
Coal is available ranging from 600 feet to 6000 feet and despite employing primitive
methods of blasting and shoveling, majority of the workers from Dir, Swat and Northern
Areas have migrated here to make up to Rs 25,000 per month. Locals, according to the
briefings are hardly interested in working in the mines, they rather would like to fill all
the administrative jobs to get easy money.
With an unplanned town already in place catering to daily needs of over 70,000 people,
there are hardly any civic amenities available there. Due to mining activities, water level
has further fallen down in the area and drinking water is likely to remain an issue, while
electricity poles are there but availability of power remains an issue. Health facilities for
the name-sake are present, but neither the provincial government nor the federal
government has got any data on the health or working condition of the labourers working
in these mines. So far Nine deaths have taken place, while the local mining inspector of
the provincial government informed the media that five doctors cum paramedics (read
only paramedics) are employed for the project who were no where to be seen throughout
the visit. Nevertheless the official briefing from the mining inspector revealed that they
have treated 47000 patients since 2007 mostly for suffocation, burns, and minor injuries
—again no record was available.
Official briefing and ariel view, however, revealed that four labour colonies to house 220
families have been almost completed and would soon be distributed amongst the
labourers, but how that will be done, no one amongst the officials knew. Locals were
fearing that chieftains would recommend that mostly for levies--belonging to Marris
tribes--and the rest will go to some supervisors and the government officials.
strange thing is that it is an all-male city because all the migrants are here without
families and locals have nothing more to do but to collect taxes or work as local malitias.
Other costs such as social sector development and payment to security personnel is
deducted from the share of Marris which means that after making these payments, Marris
gets Rs 220 per metric ton from the project.

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