The faces of children blackened with coal dust reveal the dark secrets of around 15,000-odd coal mines in mineral-rich Jharkhand. According to UNICEF, 4 lakh children aged between 5 and 14 years work in these mines to supplement their families’ meagre income. A large number of them work in mines.
Deadly cave-ins are frequently reported in the region’s fragile mines, trapping and killing those inside. But the children have no choice because it is the money that matters. They have to dig holes through rocks of solid coal and chip out smaller pieces out of it for transporting them to the market for some money.
The Indian Mines Act, 1952 says that no one under the age of 18 can be employed in the mines, but huge number of children are involved in the mining activities because they have no other option but to earn livelihood for their family.
“I have to quit studies to earn bread and butter for my family. There was no other option. All my family members have to work together all day so that we do not starve from hunger,” 12-year-old Rakesh Urawon, who works as a miner in coal pits of Ramgarh, told Newsclick.
“I manage to earn Rs 200 per day by going into the mines,” he said.
The future of children like him appears to be as bleak as the dark mines they are forced to work in because of the faulty policies of the government and improper rehabilitation of the people affected with unchecked mining in the state. Schools are scarce in the region and education is often seen to be a luxury.
“We know that we are putting both our and our children’s lives at stake everyday, but we are forced to do it for livelihood in absense of alternate forms of employment and poverty alleviation projects in this part of the region,” said Suresh Urawon.
Around 20 workers, including children, died in cave-ins and other accidents in mining regions in recent months.
Social activists also talk of the high toll rampant illegal mining exacts on children, ranging from alcoholism to rising juvenile crime.
However, the government has failed to curb the illegal trade and all its attendant evils. “We tried to enroll people in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act work but failed as they do not get enough money,” explains an official associated with the Jharkhand rural development department.
At least 10,000 families, he said, might be earning their livelihood by illegal mining in the area. “As the area has a history of mining (both legal and illicit), the government should legalise the unlawful mining and provide workers with sufficient safety training,” he said.
The mines in the state have been leased to state-owned companies like the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), the Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) and the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL).
However, illegal minings is at its peak. People venture into these illicit and unsafe mines to extract coal illegally. Sometimes, they enter into the mines that have been abandoned but not decommissioned properly. Locals say the illegal miners also poach into mines that are operational but not looked after properly.
With thousands of mines and a large area to cover, it is often impossible for the companies to monitor every mine, allowing an illegal mining industry to flourish.
Government figures also point to the deep-rooted scourge of illegal mining. According to the Ministry of Coal, 583 cases of illegal mining were reported in the state between 2006 and 2010. However, not a single person was arrested for the trade. In the four years up to September 2009, 21,702 tonnes of illegally mined coal were seized by officials.
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