Lack of livelihood opportunities is forcing hundreds of poor Dalits into illegal coal mining in our correspondent Mukesh Rajak’s state – Jharkhand. Illegal coal mining is widespread in Jharkhand, India’s largest coal producer state. Though most of the mining is done by huge multinational companies, there is also a lot of mining that takes place illegally. An estimated 7,20,000 tonnes of coal is smuggled every year in the state. Most of it is controlled by an organized syndicate of coal mafia which employs poor Dalits to get the coal out of the ground. Our correspondent Mukesh is a Dalit himself who comes from one of the villages in Deogarh district where this dangerous activity takes place.
However, dozens of villages across Deogarh district, people engaged in illegal mining are poor villagers, belonging to marginalized communities such as Mukesh’s own, who have been denied of rights to livelihood.
The Dalits mine coal from three sources:
• A shallow village-dug coal pit,
• An abandoned mine and
• Dumps of legally mined coal, waiting uploading and dispatch to different destinations
The poor miners are divided into two groups. The first group digs the coal by hand, while the second group puts the coal in sacks and carry these sacks on their cycles to neighbouring towns to sell. The coal is sold to a few individual houses, but mostly to roadside fast food stalls and local brick fields.
Both the groups risk being buried under the sudden caving in of a mine’s roof. More than 350 people have lost their lives in illegal coal mining in the last 15 years. Since they were mining illegally, no compensation or aid is ever provided to the victim’s family.
If they escape death, they are still at risk of getting arrested under the Goonda Act – government law prohibiting illegal mining.
The earning of these people just Rs 200 a day – extremely paltry compared to the high risk they take. Even this amount is not guaranteed.
Mukesh who meets these people regularly feels that they resort to illegal mining not to make profits, but just to survive. Most of them have been denied a livelihood under government rural employment scheme such as NREGA. Some, as the illegal miner in the video, are stopped from joining office even after getting a job because corrupt officials ask for bribes which they can not pay.
Mukesh believes, to tackle the organized mafia-run illegal mining, the govt needs to enforce stringent laws. But to deal with petty crimes committed by poor Dalits the govt should rather address the reasons that force these people into the crime such as unemployment and poverty. Once that is done, the number of illegal coal miners in villages will also drastically drop.