BHUBANESWAR, May 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
A uthorities in eastern India have begun the process of
legalising mica mining, a senior government official said on
Thursday, after a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation last
year uncovered the deaths of children working in illegal mines.
A three-month investigation in the mica-producing state of
Jharkhand in August found at least seven children had died in
just two months in illegal mines - as they picked and sorted the
prized mineral which adds the sparkle to make-up and car paint.
The deaths however went unreported as victims' families and
mine operators feared it could end illegal mining of mica, an
important source of income in some of India's poorest regions.
Child rights experts say legalising the mining of mica will
allow the sector to be regulated, root out child labour, and
ensure better wages and conditions for mine workers.
Jharkhand's mines commissioner, Aboobacker Siddique, said
authorities first planned to sell off dumps of scrap mica and
would then focus on auctioning off old mica mines and other
reserves for mining. Many children work with their parents
working in the dumps and in old mines collecting the mineral.
"We have issued a tender notice on Wednesday for auctioning
of mica dumps. These are waste dumps of the old mica mines which
is called 'dhibra' which is low-quality flakes of mica,"
Siddique said by phone from Ranchi, Jharkhand's capital.
"People were taking up these scraps illegally and
accumulating and selling it. To stop this, we decided to remove
the waste dumps of the mica by selling it in auctions."
India is one of the world's largest producers of mica, a
silver-coloured, crystalline mineral, that has gained prominence
in recent years as an environmentally-friendly material, used in
the car and building sectors, electronics and "natural" make-up.
Once boasting over 700 legal mines, the industry was hit by
1980 legislation to limit deforestation and the invention of
synthetic mica, forcing most mines to close.
But renewed interest in mica has sent illegal operators
scurrying to access hundreds of closed, crumbling mines, many in
the forests of Jharkhand's Koderma and Giridih districts.
Indian law forbids children below the age of 18 working in
mines and other hazardous industries but many families living in
extreme poverty rely on children to boost household income.
Following the Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in
August, Jharkhand's labour department announced an inquiry.
The findings submitted earlier this month said illegal mica
mining was the main source of income for local people and
confirmed some workers had died due to collapsing mines.
However, it found no evidence of child deaths.
Labour officials, however, said they had launched a public
awareness campaign across the state to stop child labour and had
rescued around 250 children working in places such as small
shops and restaurants.
Siddique said around 100 mica dumps had been identified for
auction. Once these had been sold, "ghost" mines and fresh
reserves of mica would be put up for auction. He did not specify
(Reporting by Jatindra Dash @DashJatin, Editing by Nita Bhalla
and Ros Russell Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)