Greedy officials stall Chinas bid to close unsafe coal mines

Greedy officials stall Chinas bid to close unsafe coal mines

China will allow thousands of unsafe coal mines to continue operating until at least 2010 after a plan to shut them down met with heavy resistance from local governments, state press said.

Central authorities in Beijing intended to close all China’s unsafe coal mines by the end of next year, but local governments opposed the plan because it would mean a cut in their revenues and profits, the China Daily and Xinhua news agency reported.

“Problems emerged when the policy was implemented at local levels,” Xinhua quoted An Yuanjie, an official with the State Administration of Work Safety, as saying.

“Small coal mines, some of which are notoriously deadly, are considered the major capital sources for local governments, leading to many local authorities protecting unsafe mines for financial gain,” she said.

China’s coal mines are regarded as the most dangerous in the world.

Almost 6,000 workers died in China’s coal mines last year — a rate of about 16 fatalities each day — according to official figures.

Labor rights groups, such as the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, say the real number of mining deaths could be as high as 20,000 each year, because local government officials and mine owners often cover up accidents.

Previous attempts to shut down China’s unsafe mines have met with mixed success, at best.

Nearly 60 percent of the 5,001 mines ordered to shut down last year continued to operate, the government admitted in January.

One reason is that many local officials have business interests in the coal industry. Officials in charge of overseeing safety or closing the mines often had stakes in the same mines, the government has said previously.

Under the most recent plan to have failed, the central government had intended to close down 4,861 small mines and merge many others by the end of next year, according to Xinhua.

It said China currently had 17,000 small mines that produced one third of the nation’s coal output. Under the revised plan, this number would be reduced to about 10,000 by the end of 2010.

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