Operating on an intersection of illegal extraction & supply, child labor, illiteracy, administrative opacity, health & environmental despair, Indian ethnicity-cum-aesthetic vision and the larger globalized economic matrix, the mica mining industry in India is a case for reflection over the lacuna in India’s mining policy orientation.

Mined mostly in China, India, the USA and Europe, India is a potent  global supplier of mica wherein the net export value by exporting mica from India was around 35 million U.S.D. in the financial year 2019.

The states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh are the major mining sites for this shiny mineral in India. Herein, Jharkhand and Bihar also suffer from highest poverty rates, dismal literacy and school attendance inevitably leading to rising child labor in these regions.

The story of Mohammad Manan Ansari, an invincible warrior who defeated the pulverising circumstances in the lethal mica mining terrains which many children, youth & adults alike are doomed to survive through as bonded labourers or as Mr. Ansari says, ‘slave labour’ is a wake-up call for the larger youth to ace the urgency of change making in India.

Manan began to work in a mica mine in the district of Koderma, Jharkhand at the age of six, which is not a unique sight here in the mica commerce. In 2007, when an activist Govinda Prasad Khanal  from the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan rescued him from these mines, he was set to write his destiny of  empowerment and advocacy for children’s rights. When he turned ten, he was rehabilitated in the Bal Ashram in Viratnagar, in Rajasthan from where he pioneered his journey of outreach & rescue bonded child labourers from his hometown and beyond via efforts like Mukti Karavan under the aegis of his NGO. He names the other rescued children like Amarlal, Payal, Razia, Devli, Suman, Kalu amongst many more who raised awareness regarding child labour based commerce on many national & international forums.

He, who now is a Delhi University graduate himself, has disseminated his journey thus far at events such as the Trust Women Conference in London in 2014 organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Bharat Yatra organised under the stewardship of Sri Kailash Satyarthi who he fondly calls as his “Bhai Sahab ji” ,TedxNITTE talk amongst many such events.

To sincerely honour Manan Ansari’s heroic battle of fortitude and  social empowerment, it is imperative to navigate across the fatal economics of mica mining which births and kills both the unsung & sung-for heroes like him.

From Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s case study on eradication of child labor in mica mining areas we learn that along with children as old as five for picking and sorting this mineral, adults too work in these mostly unregulated, deadly mines. Shockingly, since many mines here are abandoned or inside the forest cover, cases of mining deaths (caused especially by caving and collapsing of the mines) among children and adults both aren’t institutionally notified to avert the loss of the main livelihood source of the native communities which exacerbates the muscle & money power of the mining mafia, middle men nexus who supply mica in scraps, sheets, blocks to agents in town from where sadly the major part of global export of mica ensues.

What for?: Mica and the Global Industrial hunger

Mica’s pearlescence & luminosity finds a loyal usage in the following domains:- paints & coatings, personal care & beauty, plastics, ink manufacturing, electronic appliances, automotive & construction industry and oil-well drilling.

Glitz and glitches:

Since herein I find Cosmetics’ industry & its dynamics to resonate more effectively on a personal level, let us explore  Mica and its ethical extraction issues in this field. Mineral based beauty products composed of mica are a hit amongst the beauty consumers by the virtue of its glittery appeal.

Today many Cosmetics’ brands amidst concerns of child labor being endemic in mica extraction process have either eliminated mica completely & use only synthetic mica like Lush Cosmetics, while others advocate for an ethical extraction process with an assurance of livelihoods to the native stakeholders.

The Economic Awakening:

The promulgation of the New Economic Policy from 1991 spearheaded the influx of cosmetic & the larger beauty goods in Indian markets as crucially setting a fertile ground for the cosmetic boom in the nation today considering India’s improving sex ratio and demographic statistics.

What amplifies the domestic usage of these products is the gigantic size of the Indian media & entertainment industry valued at 34.8 bn dollars by 2022 which is profusely exacerbated by the proportions of print media, vernacular and national dance dramas, theatrical performances and the like.

The(Neo) Imperial saga:

Upon a careful analysis of their chain of production in the backdrop of cultural & traditional, aesthetic ethos of our nation, this economic dynamism I feel would not be dismissed as yet another economic trivia.

Replete with neo- imperialistic / cultural colonialism tendencies, this matrix of globalization, economics, and beauty does rub- off significantly on our values & self- perception.

Boosted demand of mica due to aforementioned factors has aided in reviving this industry which dates to the late 19th century when British discovered mica in South Bihar, Northern Jharkhand and even in Rajasthan. This once flourishing industry was hit into closure by the 1980 Forest Conservation Act which limited deforestation and propelled discoveries into substitutes of mica.

Sociological Ramifications:

Fatalities- social,health and environmental like an underground mine collapse, inhalation of respirable quartz in the silica dust, long-term exposure to which leads to silicosis, suffocation from gas leaks, malaria, snake bites, heatstroke etc are inextricably underpinned to Mica’s unethical extraction.

How sociologically crucial it is to realize that we see a  further marginalization of adivasi & dalit children as they lose  their Constitutional rights under the 5th schedule via displacement, land alienation, migration caused by the migration projects at a cross-section of social vulnerability, malnutrition, loss of the Right to Education.

The National vision- Mineral Policy,2019:

The National Mineral Policy 2019, though does acknowledge the need for grant of rehabilitation packages to protect interests of the native population, yet  issues like under-estimation of project costs & , non-consultation with the affected groups, its improper implementation still persist.

By the virtue of its business friendliness with investors & mining companies, the policy does hit the Sound Policy tenet of fostering competition and freedom but its ambiguity on eco- sensitiveness & tribal, caste consciousness negates the policy principle of being close to the people and their livelihood.

This is exemplified by a faster, single-window Environmental and Forest clearances ( EC & FC)  which compromises on comprehensive quality assessment of the project raising doubts about forest ecology, wildlife- corridors, and the natives therein. The only exception the Mining Policy of 2019 makes is for the “critically fragile areas” to be declared as a ‘ no-go’ and ‘inviolate’.

Even our umbrella of environmental laws- Environment Protection Act(1986), Water Act( 1974) , the Air Act(1981) do not feature a specific standard on environmental pollution from mining.

Child labour laws like The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, National Policy on Children, 2013 , critics say, do not functionally implement the motive behind these laws at the grassroots. They argue that they only geographically shift child labour to other domains like agriculture, either less remunerative or ‘able to be done clandestinely’ categories.

Ansari hereby  vehemently pursues  to “Never accept anything, not even a glass of water from a place which employs child labour” and it is due to institutional efforts of NGOs like Bachpan Bachao Andolan that have driven Corporate initiatives from brands like , L’Oréal, Volkswagen, AlzoNobel (which have been primary Indian Mica’s consumers) to entail ethical procurement, strict code of Business Ethics, suspension of ties with child labour sourced mica suppliers, stringent vendor policies to confirm exclusion of child labour .

Hence, by a deliberative network of bureaucratic pragmatism, native consultation, policy thinkers, activist groups like Bachpan Bachao Andolan & their rescued warriors like Manan Ansari, corporate stakeholders; we must strive for an effective administrative  convergence between between departments like child welfare, education, tribal welfare, labour, environment to gear towards focal inclusion of bonded labourers and the larger tribals’ concerns for the Ministry of Mines which is mainly involved in this subject.

Authored by: Vandana Bhatia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *