Inside Harnai coalmines

October 25, 2015

Harnai Coalmines Project is operational once again after FC steps in to check kidnappings and tribal feuds

Inside Harnai coalmines

At a distance of 160km north-east of Quetta, Harnai district was created in August 2007. Carved out of Sibi district, Harnai comprises Harnai, Shahrag and the sub-tehsil of Khost. Like the rest of Balochistan, the district is resource rich, especially in coal.

According to Pakistan Minerals Development Corporation’s website, with estimated reserves standing at 28.97 million tones, the leased area of Harnai coalmines (Shahrag-Khost-Harnai Coal Field) is 6, 551.46 acres. The yearly coal production stood at 188,389.000 from 2013-2014. Contradictory stories regarding the operation of coalmining and its impacts on the local population prompted my interest in visiting the district.

I visited Harnai, Shahrag and Khost and met local people, their leaders and contractors. Locals recall that in 1986, a man namely Sheikh Islam from Punjab leased to himself the Harnai coalmines mainly in Khost. In 2001, due to local pressure, Sheikh was compelled to quit the business. "Once out of the business, the Sheikh leased coalmine business in Khost to three front-men who are Pashtuns, but non-locals of Harnai," stated a PkMAP’s local leader of Khost.

Local opposition to coalmining by the troika led to local feuds over mining. Kidnapping of the labours, burning of coal laden trucks and threatening calls in the name of BLA demanding extortion money led to complete halting of the coalmining back in 2001-02. The mining activity in Khost only restarted after the signing of a security agreement between coalmines companies and the FC on December 25, 2014.

The Harnai Coal Mines Project agreement entrusts the FC with the responsibility to protect mining area and its route up to Zhob. In return, the FC charges 220 rupees per ton on the heads of security/development (Rs200) and district administration charges (Rs20). Background interviews with people suggest that under varied conditions the people of Harnai, Shahrag and Khost approached Corps Commander and IGFC for a security agreement.

In Harnai, the FC camp is years-old, people recall. "Since the work is in its initial phase, coal production is 400-500 tons a week," remarked a contractor. "It will take another seven months for the optimal production," he maintained. "There is no tax on coal production in Harnai; tax is levied on coal in Shahrag and Khost only," stated another contractor. "It is the low quality of coal in Harnai due to which little coal is dug out from Harnai coalmines," said a contractor. In Shahrag, "coal production is 650 ton per day on average," a contractor guessed.

A local leader said, "Since May 2009, it was the BLA threat in Shahrag, which compelled mine owners to seek help from FC as the levies could not provide security to coalmines operations." In fact, Khost has been a trouble spot since 2001 after Sheikh Islam leased his coalmines to three front-men.

The Harnai Coal Mines Project agreement entrusts the FC with the responsibility to protect mining area and its route up to Zhob. In return, the FC charges 220 rupees per ton on the heads of security.

According to a lease owner who is not a Harnai local, "in Khost, 1300-1400 tons of coal is produced per month. For 14 years, there has been no digging out of coal in Khost due to which mines have caved in," he added. "Sheikh’s leasing of his coalmines to three outsiders led to resentment among the local people, especially political leaders and the result was the long closure of mining activity," stated a local commentator. Resultantly, "thousands of people from contractors to labourers were rendered unemployed," lamented a labourer.

When I inquired about the social development works, if any, undertaken by the FC in return of the exploitation of coal, an FC official accompanied me to a visit to various welfare tasks undertaken by the FC. FC public school and boys’ hostel were recently inaugurated by IGFC Maj Gen Sher Afgun on September 8, 2015. Besides, a computer lab was established in Harnai girls’ high school. Various items of furniture such as chairs and tables were distributed free to various schools.

The officer suggested me for a ground visit of Duki where "FC’s welfare activities were in mature form and here in Harnai our welfare activities are in rudimentary form because only a few months have passed that FC has taken responsibility for the security," he said.

Under the Duki Coal Mines Project agreement, signed on May 26, 2011, FC provides security to mines operations and ensures safe passage of coal-laden trucks. Spread across an area of more or less 36,000 acres, Duki coalmines are located three kilometres southwest of Duki.

Tribal fighting between Tareen and Nasar tribes over mining ownership rendered coalmining stopped until the signing of the DCMP agreement under which FC deploys a total of 571 personnel.

Similarly, a total of 265 personnel from local tribes consist of Duki Guards (DGs). Duki Action and Implementation Committee is a dispute management body. With Commandant Loralai Scout as its chairman, it comprises five other members: General Services Officer-1 (projects) headquarter FC, Duki wing commandant, Deputy Commissioner Loralai, deputy director Mines and Mineral Department and a representative from Tareen and Nasr tribe. FC collects Rs 220 as security and district administration charges per ton.

Functional since June 4, 2015, Duki Medical Centre -- constructed at the cost of Rs 9.09 millions -- provides free medical care to coalminers and Duki residents. Eight water filtration units were installed at various points in Duki. Uniquely, in a backward area such as Duki was an intermediate college for females, facilitated by a modern computer lab.

A total of 232 students from Duki, Sanjavi and Loralai were on scholarship in Mastung and Khuzdar and outside Balochistan, costing FC Rs541,000 per month. Similarly, 1330 students from Loralai, Duki and Sanjavi were getting free education in various FC Public Schools. Interestingly, with an average cost of Rs196,000, a total of 317 students from Kohlu were on FC scholarship.

In Loralai, FC has constructed a 100-boy hostel, costing Rs15 million, which is operational since March 15, 2014. At present, 83 students from Loralai, Duki, Sanjavi and Mekhtar were availing the facility free of cost. On average, it costs Rs8000 a student per month. A small sports complex caters to students for recreational activities. A park costing Rs6.39 million was also established in Loralai.

With a cost of Rs7.23 million, a state of the art auditorium adores FC Public School and College in Loralai. "After the success of DCMP agreement between FC and local tribes in Duki for the provision of security to coalmining, our deputations started approaching Southern Command and Inspector General FC for the provision of security to coalmines operation in Harnai," stated a contractor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Resultantly, the FC -- comprising around 700 FC personnel -- entered into security agreements with coalmines companies in September 2014 to provide security to coalmining business in Harnai district.

Inside Harnai coalmines