Andrei Krushinski: Fifth catastrophe, or Market is market

A November 22 catastrophe increased the number of miners’ deaths to 90. However, this not a record for China, especially taking into account the fact that from January to October, 4,547 people died in coal mines (on average, 455 people a month). Moreover, this accident was the fifth within 10 days in the same province. It happened after local authorities ordered the stop of coal mining everywhere. However, the businessman could not help but to disobey, as coal prices rose. From the very beginning, inculcation of marked reforms in China was accompanied by tendencies of decentralization and denacialization and of weakening central institutions’ precedence. The most notable changes are to be observed in industry of fossil resources, especially of coal mining, which now mainly belongs to local interests, while bowels working licences could be obtained by private persons.

The imperfection of this decentralization is gradually becoming obvious: decreasing of tax revenues (because a private owner always tries to avoid paying taxes by bribing local functionaries), wasteful use of resources (because a private owner always prefers to skim the cream, leaving much ore, coal in dump), increasing the accident rate (because a private owner usually has neither necessary qualifications nor a wish to guarantee production safety).

The ecology has been seriously damaged: in particular, inexperienced and careless penetrating into bowels damaged subsoil waters, which became one of the main reasons of drinking water deficit in China. To better the situation, controlling functions were partly returned to the center and mineral resources working licenses were broadly reviewed (fortunately, deposits in China were not sold like in Russia but only rented). Tens of thousands of licenses vanished during this campaign. In particular, the number of small mines decreased from 82,000 (1997) to 23,000, Singhua reports. Therefore, the accident rate is gradually decreasing (in comparison with the year 2000, the daily number of miners’ deaths decreased by 7 points).

Though, the above-mentioned “10 black days” reminded us that the issue is still pointed. The Shansi province government held an extraordinary telecommunication conference, where it was decided to carry out a checkup of all coal mines of the province over their conformity with safety norms. Now, permission is necessary to recommence coal mining, JenMin-Jibao newspaper reported on November 19. Three days later the fifth explosion took place, which meant the mine had not ceased its work in spite of the directive, and this cost 16 miners’ lives. The cause of the explosions is the same everywhere: marsh-gas is being accumulated in mines because of lack of ventilation. All the more, there are no reserve adits in mines. Chinese community is indignant with these events. Shansi province’s governor sent 1,100 functionaries to check up mines. However, according to newspapers quoted a functionary from the state body controlling safety of coal mining, the mines where the explosions took place should have already been closed several months ago. He also explained why the directive was violated by some coal businessmen: coal prices have increased by $6.00 a ton because of heating season’s start in China. The market is the market.

Andrei Krushinski PRAVDA.Ru Beijing

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