Death trap in a mine

| Updated on May 31, 2019

Illegal mica mining in Jharkhand continues unabated, despite the severe environment and health hazards it poses

From cosmetics to electronics and car paint, mica is used in a host of products and imported by multinational companies in large quantities from India. But with synthetic alternatives replacing natural mica, and also because of growing environment and health concerns (exposure to mica can lead to serious respiratory problems), scores of mines have been closed down over the years in India.

Jharkhand’s Koderma and Giridih districts are home to a number of abandoned mica mines. There were nearly 700 mines at one time when mica mining was at its zenith, making India the largest exporter of the silver-hued mineral.

Today, these deserted mines are hunting grounds for the local people — belonging to the Santhal tribe — who work in these mines illegally. There are nearly 200 villages around these mines. Thousands of women and children rummage through these mines in search of the mineral. The villagers believe that the nimble hands of children, who often skip school to work at the mines, are better at foraging mica scraps. These rat-hole mines are often guarded by local vigilantes and strangers are not allowed to enter the area. One such abandoned mine is located in Malyagiri, about 15 km from Domchanch.

Women from the neighbouring villages of Kosmai and Lakshmipur come to Malyagiri to dig for mica scrap, which fetches them around 5-15 per kg. While the smaller mica scrap typically used in the cosmetic industry fetches 5 a kg, mica slates that are slightly larger go for a higher price. Traders from local markets visit these villages at regular intervals to buy mica from the women.

Text: TV Jayan

Images: Kamal Narang

Published on May 31, 2019

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