MAC: Mines and Communities

India's child coal miners

Published by MAC on 2010-09-27
Source: CS Monitor, The Telegraph (Calcutta) (2010-09-20)

India's child coal miners

Christian Science Monitor

20 September 2010

Children as young as 7 mine coal under deplorable conditions in northeastern India, where local authority overrules national laws against such practices.

Under life-threatening conditions, an estimated 70,000 children work in the coal mines in the Jaintia Hills in northeast India, according to a children's rights organization working to end the practice. The youngest of the miners are just 7 years old.

For the equivalent of a few dollars a day - $5 per cartload of coal - they work narrow, unreinforced seams in 5,000 small mines. Most are Nepalese, who are allowed to apply to work here, but many are Bangladeshis, who are here illegally. Others are Indian. Some have been sold by their families as indentured laborers, according to Impulse, an India-based children's rights group.

While Indian law prohibits child labor, India's Constitution grants the tribal and native communities in this region exclusive rights over their land, which includes operating the mines. Lawsuits against mine owners are conveyed by national courts to local courts, where mine owners are unlikely to be prosecuted, says Hasina Kharbhih, head of Impulse.

Mine manager Purna Lama says there is no money for safety measures. Cave-ins are always a threat; wooden ladders leading down to quarries are slippery with moss; there is little or no access to medical care, sanitation, safe drinking water, or even adequate ventilation. Mr. Lama estimates that there are eight accidents a month in the mines, at least two of which are fatal.

A mine owner, asked about the dismal working conditions and child labor, dismissed the claims as media rumors.

Impulse and another nongovernmental organization are pressuring the mine owners. Some have stopped hiring children.


Meghalaya mulls rehab of little miners

By E.M. Jose

The Telegraph (Calcutta)

5 September 2010

Shillong - The Meghalaya government is working on a rehabilitation package to help the children working under hazardous situations in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills, following a direction from the National Human Rights Commission.

The state commissioner and secretary of mining and geology, Arindam Som, today said following the commission's direction on August 13, a high-level meeting will be held next week to be convened by chief secretary W.M.S. Pariat to discuss the modalities to rehabilitate the children who work in the mines.

The commission has given three months' time to the state government to find out ways and means to rehabilitate the children.

"We have to co-ordinate with the departments of education, police, social welfare and the district administration to find a viable package for the children," Som said.

According to reports, coal mining in Meghalaya popularly known as "rat hole mining" has changed the ecology and landscape of the hill state, besides affecting the health of the migrant children and their parents working in the mines.

Some experts, who studied the coal mining activities in the state, have coined "rat hole mining" as the miners adopt unscientific methods.

Since the coal layers or seams are thin ranging from 6 inches to 3 feet, the miners either use hands or traditional tools to extract coal.

A minimum of 25metres is dug to extract coal. The labou-rers, including children, have to walk down through wooden steps to remove coal. If the fuel is exhausted in a pit, they look for coal in other areas.

Children, mostly from Nepal and Bangladesh, are working in these Jaintia Hills mines with their parents.

The Jaintia Hills district administration conducted a survey in 20 villages in July this year and found that there are 222 children working in the coal mines.

While 153 were local residents, the remaining were from Assam, Bihar, Nepal and Bangladesh.

According to the district administration, the survey was carried out after a Shillong-based NGO had brought out that 70,000 children work in the coal mines.

Sources in the district administration said the population of Jaintia Hills is just over 2 lakh and it is impossible for 70,000 children to work in the coal mines.

"Our priority will be to rehabilitate these 222 children," an official with the state social welfare department said.

Other than Lad Sutnga, Bapung, Lad Rymbai and Khliehriat areas in Jaintia Hills, rat hole mining is also carried out at Nangalbibra in South Garo Hills and Shallang, Langrin and Borsora in West Khasi Hills.

The local indigenous population engages in traditional method of mining according to their land tenure system where the ownership of the mines is with the people and not with the government.

Because of this, the Union government named the mines here as local cottage mines or small-scale coal mines, which operate beyond the purview of Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act.

The government has framed a draft mining policy to check the present system of unscientific coal mining. According to the policy, there are a series of measures initiated by the government for scientific mining.

The draft mining policy points out that there is an urgent need to see that the environment is protected while initiating various mining activities.

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