Archived photo: On June 27, 2016, 16-year-old Babloo broke mica fragments with a hammer in the Giridih district of Jharkhand state in eastern India. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nita Bhalla
Mumbai, India, January 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)-When India entered a lockdown in March last year and Tota Rai lost his cleaning job at the Surat Textile Center, he knew that the illegal mica mining industry in the country was His only choice.
Rai, 45, and his three sons — two adults and a teenager — are now looking for valuable mineral fragments that are used to make glitter into cosmetics, car paint, and electronics, and then Sold to local merchants in the eastern state of Jharkhand.
But as the pandemic has prompted more families to buy mica, residents, researchers and activists have expressed concern that the government and the private sector have failed to regulate the often deadly trade from abandoned mines and create other jobs.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation found child deaths in abandoned mines in three states revealed in 2016. Families paid “blood money” to remain silent, prompting brands to vowed to clean up the supply chain and authorities to legalize and supervise mica.
Rai said that he paid 5,000 rupees (US$68) a month for his job as a hotel cleaner, but now he is lucky enough to earn 50 rupees a day to sell outside mines that were closed in the 1980s due to restrictions on deforestation and the emergence of natural mica substitutes. Collected mica.
"I went home very hard, but there is no other job here," Rai said. He rode 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) back to his village in Giridih in 10 days and joined the millions of people who had returned home due to COVID. The ranks of workers. -19 attacked India.
"Mica is our only hope for survival...I just want to be allowed to pick mica," he said over the phone in his mud hut. The soil in the area and even the roadside soil shone with minerals.
The Jharkhand government stated that it is taking action to legalize the industry, but progress has been slower than expected.
K. Srinivasan, secretary of the Ministry of Minerals and Geology, stated that a new policy is being formulated to "lawfully carry out mica mining in Jharkhand" and ensure employment.
"We really want to solve this problem," he said.
India is one of the largest mica producers in the world.
The industry used to have more than 700 mines and more than 20,000 workers, but was hit by legislation restricting deforestation and the discovery of natural mica alternatives in the 1980s-most mines were forced to close due to costs and strict environmental regulations.
However, with China’s economic boom and the global enthusiasm for natural cosmetics, people’s interest in mica has rekindled. In recent years, illegal operators have reopened abandoned mines, creating a lucrative black market, but sometimes it can be miserable. result.
Despite the danger, Rai stated that he had no choice but to choose mica and no other work.
After returning to China in August, he joined the mica worker group established by local officials to help people find jobs through the national plan, but only got 8 days of work within four months, and his salary was delayed-which prompted him to return. Here comes the mica.
"There is nothing but mica...All the children in my village go to collect mica," he said.
A follow-up investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2019 found that adults and children were still dying in the mines, and global concerns made it unlikely that people would report deaths for fear of being arrested or losing income.
Traders and activists in Giridih and Koderma, two mica centers in Jharkhand state, estimated that thousands of people joined the ranks of more than 50,000 mica miners and pickers last year due to unemployment and school closures due to the pandemic.
“The people at the bottom of the mica supply chain are the poorest of the children and the poor. They usually don’t have land,” said Bhuwan Ribhu, a children’s rights activist who has worked in mica-dependent communities in Jharkhand for many years.
He added: “Their debt has increased (due to COVID-19) and we are worried that this may lead to a bondage situation,” he refers to people getting loans from money lenders at high interest rates, which is a well-known push Modern development practices. Slavery.
Activists and academics said that the pandemic exposed the slow pace and limited scope of the reforms promised by the Jharkhand government and the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), which was established in 2016 to end child labor and improve mica mining conditions of.
Both the government and RMI have been criticized for focusing on appropriate community-level measures for neglecting to promote the legalization of the industry and the creation of alternative employment opportunities.
"The policy (of the RMI and the Jharkhand government) is limited to the evacuation of children from mines," said Professor Sanjay Bart of the Delhi School of Social Work, who has studied the effects of mica in Jharkhand villages in the past ten years. Dependence.
"Livelihoods are seen as a separate issue. There is no connection," he added. "In this regard, RMI is a good but meaningless initiative...to bring about policy changes. The government says it provides jobs, but how many?"
RMI’s more than 60 members include cosmetics company L’Oréal and pharmaceutical and chemical group Merck Group, which raised approximately 880,000 euros (US$1.1 million) last year-30,000 euros less than in 2019-to fund dozens of Indian mica tapes Village project.
The Paris-based alliance says it has returned hundreds of children to school and helped families find other sources of income and establish links with the national welfare program.
"This is a shared responsibility," said Fanny Fremont, head of RMI, adding that the government, charities and companies need to work together to "implement solutions with long-term impact."
The Thomson Reuters Foundation has questioned several RMI brands such as L'Oreal, Merck KGaA, and the new member Porsche in 2020 regarding the mica mining in Jharkhand and their own financial contributions.
L'Oréal and Merck stated that they are aware of the unsafe conditions and the risks of child labor, but continue to purchase Indian mica to avoid "further weakening the situation in the region."
Porsche, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, Germany's largest automaker, did not respond to a request for comment.
RMI announced a sustainable mica mining policy last year aimed at creating jobs for 210,000 workers in Jharkhand and promoting exports from 2021. However, two state government officials stated that the plan was not feasible because of the The industry is still illegal.
Srinivasan stated that the regulation of the industry requires private sector investment. Past attempts to sell mica blocks to mining companies in 2018 and 2019 have failed, and traders blame it on the high price of 50 million rupees. No auction was held last year.
Srinivasan said that Jharkhand officials are now considering "methods to modify the bid prices of these blocks."
The Ministry of Women, Child Development and Social Security of Jharkhand stated that it ensures that children go to school at home during the pandemic, broadcast courses through speakers, and inform regional offices of the risks of human trafficking.
In the Mansadi village of Giridih, community leader Anasiah Hembrom said that enrollment and literacy rates have increased in recent years, but COVID-19 has caused more children and returning migrant workers to pick mica to earn a living.
He said that some returnees have found jobs under the employment plan of the rural government, but the shortage of supply and delayed payments mean that many people have dropped out of school.
“Mica promises to guarantee income at the end of the work day,” he said on the phone, noting that the price of mica from traders fell by more than half last year to 5 rupees per kilogram.
At the same time, people continued to die in the mine.
The Giridi police recorded two mica mine accidents in 2020 (March and November), resulting in 7 deaths. In both cases, they did not find the body, but recorded the death toll based on the testimony of the villagers and the visit to the mica mine.
For activists, the solution is clear: regulate trade.
“The number of people mining mica has increased,” said Om Prakash, director of the Kailash Satyarthi UNICEF, which is working with Jharkhand to end child labor in mines.
"This is why it is important for people to obtain legal mining permits because it is the only way to make a living."
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(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; editing by Kieran Guilbert and Belinda Goldsmith. Credit to Thomson Reuters' charity, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which covers the lives of people struggling for freedom or fairness around the world. Visit http: //news.trust.org)
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