Henan coal mine blast highlights collusion between mine owners and local officials

At least 47 miners were killed and dozens more severely injured when an explosion ripped through a privately-run coal mine in Henan in the early hours of Monday morning.

The Xingdong No 2 coal mine in Pingdingshan had been operating without a valid licence since 6 June, the official Xinhua news agency reported, and the mine owner, Liu Jianguo, had now been detained by police and the mine’s bank accounts frozen.

Local journalists said the blast was actually the second major accident at the mine in the last two months. A gas explosion at the mine on 22 April had allegedly killed 11 miners and one rescue worker but the accident had been covered up by local officials concerned they would be sacked or demoted if the incident was made public. Indeed, four local officials were removed from their posts on Monday afternoon, including the head of the district government, according to a statement by the Pingdingshan municipal government.

Although the local authorities revoked the mine’s business licence in early June, they apparently turned a blind eye to the resumption of production, a common practice, as revealed by CLB’s 2008 research report on the coal mining industry in China. The report examines in detail the collusion between coalmine owners and local government officials and argues this is one of the key reasons why China’s mines continue to be the deadliest in the world. There were 592 officially reported fatalities in China’s coal mines in the first quarter of 2010, compared with 509 in the same period last year.

And the collusion of local officials in Henan was graphically illustrated by former miner Xia Shihua, who told CLB executive director Han Dongfang that the mine he worked in near Zhengzhou had never been inspected and that local safety officials were all “in the pocket” of the mine owner.

After he was disabled in a work accident, Xia attempted to sue the mine three times but was frustrated by the obstacles thrown in his way by the courts, local officials and the mine boss. He told Han:

The work safety people will refer you to the labour authorities and the labour authorities will refer you to the courts. You are just fobbed off. Meanwhile, you get no money from your boss, who can just brush you aside, and nobody can do anything about it. If you go to court, it’s a very long process. The judge can delay proceedings for months. If the worker is from outside the area, he is helpless.
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