"There is a hefty burden to face families of the dead miners and deal with the colliery owners," said Zhang Qunshan, a high-ranking official in charge of coal mine production in southwest China's Guizhou Province, while describing his daily work.
Zhang, deputy Guizhou provincial governor, was a frequenter to the sites of grim coal mine accidents, which usually killed varied numbers of people and put mountainous pressure on local administrators.
Last year, 894 miners died in colliery haphazard in Guizhou, down 8.02 percent year-on-year but still ranking No. 1 among all Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, Zhang said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua here at the ongoing session of the National People's Congress (NPC).
"I was always in a mixed mood to see family members grieving over the miners' bodies with a certain amount of compensation in pockets," said Zhang, admitting the existence of mechanism loopholes in supervising coal mine production safety.
Actually, Zhang and his team have been trying to make coal mine production safer for years. Special efforts were made last year to crack down on unauthorized collieries, largely reducing the casualties occurred there.
The province also planned to drastically increase compensations in coal mine accidents to above 200,000 yuan (approximately 25,000 US dollars) per victim this year.
"Unfortunately, these measures can not completely root out the accidents," said the official.
"Only when production capacity reaches a certain level, colliery managers can afford or care to deliberate investing more in upgrading technologies to ensure safety," noted Zhang, 80 percent of whose province's coal mines are small-scale operations with the average annual output of 40,000 tons per pit.
Nationwide, large coal mines only account for 15 percent of the country's colliery total, far lagging behind the 60-percent-level in the United States, according to Zhang.
As one of China's major coal producer, Guizhou is planning to build a number of heavy-weight state-owned coal mining groups, and input 30 million yuan (3.7 million US dollars) to ensure colliery security in 2005, up 50 percent on a yearly basis, echoing Premier Wen Jiabao's call for " truly making coal mining safer" in his government work report delivered on March 5.
While addressing the NPC annual full session Saturday, Wen said the government will spend this year 3 billion yuan (361 million US dollars) on "safety technologies upgrading" at state-owned coal mines to "truly make coal mining safer", a rare, concrete move to weed out the safety headache.
In recent years, a severe energy strain caused by China's rapid economic growth has prompted coal mines across the country to produce beyond their actual mining capacity, largely exposing lives to slack safety supervision.
Statistics from the State General Administration of Work Safety showed that throughout 2004 a total of 6,027 people were killed in 3,639 coal mine accidents.
During the past five months, three major gas explosions at the Daping Mine of central China's Henan Province, Chen Jiashan Mine of northwest China's Shaanxi Province and Sun Jiawan Mine of northeast China's Liaoning Province, which took place in October and November of last year and in February this year respectively, claimed 148, 166 and 214 lives respectively.
Liu Guoqiang, vice governor of northeast China's Liaoning Province and responsible for industry and work safety, was suspended after the Sunjiawan tragedy late February.
"Issues concerning coal mine safety can never be treated lightly," said Zhang, while commenting on the recent punishment on his Liaoning counterpart.