Make-up’s ugly secret: The plight of India’s poor miners behind the beauty industry

CNA | May 22, 2021

Mica is the mineral that gives a sparkle to an array of products, from eye shadow to lip gloss. But what consumers do not see is a deadly trade involving even children. The programme Undercover Asia investigates.

JHARKHAND, INDIA: It sounds like an innocuous ingredient, a word among many hidden on the back of the packaging of your eye shadow palette.

Mica: A mineral that can be ground down to make sparkly powders, and found in everything from eye shadow to lip gloss to foundation. Cosmetic companies value mica for its properties: Refractive, superfine and naturally occurring in different colours.

It can be found all over the world, including India, which is known for having some of the world’s largest and finest deposits. But in India, there is a heavy price to pay for it, the programme Undercover Asia investigates.

Thousands of miners working illegally in the country’s mica mines shoulder this burden, far away from the bright lights of cosmetic counters.

‘WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING’

Jharkhand, a north-eastern India state rich in mineral resources, is the country’s leading producer of coal, copper and mica. But close to half its people live in poverty.

One of them is 40-year-old widow Basanti Mosamat, who picks and sells scrap mica for a living. It is her family’s only source of income.

Once a week, Mosamat, her father-in-law and her five children make a 10-kilometre trek into the forest bordering her village to set up camp, where they would spend the next few days sifting for the mineral.

“We have difficulty finding food and trying to survive,” she said. Picking mica from dawn till dusk without any protective equipment has left her hands scraped and bruised.

Her oldest daughter, Karishma Kumari Birhor, has been picking mica since she was five — out of necessity. The more hands at work, the more likely it is the family will have food on the table.

“One person picking mica isn’t enough,” said the 14-year-old. “My father passed away, so I have to help my mother.”

Each kilogramme of mica scrap sells for seven rupees (S$0.13). On a good day, her family hope to earn around 150 rupees.

They are also less fortunate than most. They are part of India’s 100 million indigenous people known as Adivasis, who live on the fringes of society with limited governmental support in terms of health, education, job security and food.

“We don’t have anything here. We eat only every other day,” said Karishma. “Dreams don’t come true.”

DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE

Poverty has driven some miners to turn to abandoned caves and mine shafts, where mica is more plentiful. But there is no lighting or safety gear, and they often rely on their knowledge of the terrain to guide them.

Mukesh Bhulla, who has been going into abandoned mines since he was a boy, is still afraid. “People could slip and fall somewhere, or stones could fall on their head … It’s very tough,” he said.

“We have to be aware of our surroundings. Sometimes mines collapse. If one person makes a mistake, many could die.”

In January, there were at least three reports of mine collapses in Jharkhand’s Koderma district. It is estimated that 10 to 20 people die in such mishaps each month in the country’s north-eastern mica belt.

But for every accident reported, many more are covered up for one big reason: It is illegal to mine mica from land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, which came into effect in 1980 with the intention of protecting India’s forests.

The miners, however, have no choice but to continue. “If we don’t work here, then we’d all die,” said Dimpi Devi, a mother of three who mines mica from the forest and from deposits in her garden.

There are no other options for work. What would we do?

She struggles to make ends meet. Her family’s weekly expenses can go up to 2,500 rupees, but they barely earn 1,000 rupees.

This makes miners like her vulnerable to exploitation, especially when faced with additional family or health expenses. Without access to formal banking systems, they turn to unlicensed moneylenders, whose interest rates are as high as 200 per cent a year.

“Some miners told us they’re only allowed to sell mica to specific traders, those they’d borrowed money from and at a price decided by that trader,” said investigative journalist Peter Bengtsen, who has tracked the mica trade in Jharkhand for more than a decade.

“That agreement would basically last until they’d repaid that debt to this trader.”

Raids by forest authorities are also common, and miners sometimes must pay bribes in order to continue working. “The police don’t visit often, but the forest rangers are always after us,” said Mosamat.

Jharkhand’s mining areas are also run by different syndicates.

“There’s a whole network of people who make this mining happen, and they’re very powerful,” said Deepak Bara, a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand. “It can be very dangerous — it can be life-threatening — because there are so many stakeholders.”

It is estimated that 70 per cent of India’s mica output is illegally mined.

‘A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM’

Mica’s controversial reputation started to emerge in the mid-2000s, following investigations into the use of child labour in the industry.

According to the International Labour Organisation, India has more than 10 million working children. And with international organisations shining the spotlight on the issue, the plight of children in the mica industry attracted the international media’s attention.

“The stories came out — children going to mica mines, helping out their parents. So many documentaries were made (on) the issue of child labour,” said Bara.

But local journalists and politicians argue that these reports fail to address one critical detail: The marginalisation of the Adivasis. Children growing up around mica mines “have only one option”, noted Bara: To pick mica.

“They have to earn their family some income,” he said. “There’s no childcare support from the government. If there’s any, it’s not functioning.”

The problem around mica is a systemic problem. It’s not like you do a small campaign and things would get sorted out. The ground reality is very different.

In response to the growing public concern, several global coalitions were formed. One of them, the Responsible Mica Initiative, intends to eradicate child mining in Jharkhand by next year through better regulation and practices. Its members include Chanel, L’Oréal and Sephora.

Several brands have also pledged stricter compliance in their supply chains. But some also acknowledged the difficulty in tracing their mica and checking whether it is free of child labour.

In 2019, India exported more than US$37 million (S$49 million) worth of mica powder, according to World Bank data. Given the vast quantities bought and traded, it can be impossible to track where a brand’s mica comes from exactly.

Nonetheless, traceability has become a key issue for some manufacturers.

In January, European Union regulation of gold, tungsten and tin as conflict minerals took effect, so companies are now obliged to source these minerals responsibly. But similar legislation for mica has yet to be addressed.

“Mica is quite a cheap raw material to produce,” said Yue Jin Tay, the business development director of Circulor, a responsible sourcing company that uses blockchain to verify the origin of goods and minerals in supply chains.

“The cost of making sure that it’s been responsibly sourced as a proportion of the cost of the product sometimes does not make economic sense compared to other raw materials like gold or cobalt.”

Technology can be part of the solution, he added. But more work is needed to make ethical trading a common practice.

“To ensure that responsible sourcing practices are happening, they might have to be legislated for, and organisations will need to build the cost of compliance into their value chains,” he said.

“And we consumers need to accept that there’s an increased cost to us.”

WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?

Back in Jharkhand, demand for mica has not let up, and the state government is pushing for mining to be one of its economic growth initiatives.

With the problems faced by mica pickers becoming too grave to ignore, more and more community rallies are being organised to give them a voice. At some rallies, calls to legalise mining are growing louder.

Sudivya Kumar, a legislative assemblyman from Jharkhand, is using this momentum to continue lobbying for the legalisation of mica mining.

“Jharkhand has always been covered with forests, and its protection and welfare have been in our DNA forever,” he said. “We must find a way to save both the community and the forests.”

Mica was once classified as forest produce, but the Forest (Conservation) Act made mica picking a non-forest activity. India’s indigenous people are hoping its status will be restored.

“If picking mica is our only option, then the government should legalise mining here so that we can work without any fear or pressure,” said Devi.

Former mine owner Deepak Kumar Singh agreed, saying: “Mica scraps are basically residue from previous mining activities. It doesn’t harm the forest, but it’s still not legal.”

But without any real action being taken, mica pickers like Devi and Mosamat continue to work amid uncertainty for now.

Let Odisha vigorously pursue a policy for backward regions

the pioneer | May 21, 2021

The post independent economic development process in Odisha has not generated much employment for all sections of people across the State as evident from the growing distress migration.

The economic policies has contributed to widening the rich –poor gap across social groups as well as increasing the regional disparities.The unorganized sector labourers, small and marginal farmers, sharecroppers and petty traders are in the bottomline. It is evident from the statistics of the Government that many of the middle age socio-economic issues such as child labour, bonded labour, distress seasonal migration, trafficking, illiteracy, untouchability, social discrimination, malnutrition and extreme poverty are still prevalent in the State in spite of rule of a regional party for five times consecutively. These problems are the consequences of the economic policies of the successive Governments ruled for the last seventy years.

Justice SK Mohanty Commission’s report on regional imbalance submitted to the Government in 2008 identified south-west districts such as Malkangiri, Nuapada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Kalahandi, Kondhamal and northern districts like Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Keonjhar as most underdeveloped. This region is home to a majority of the total poor of the State but it is contributing more to the State treasury in terms of SGDP.

It has been observed that there is serious disparity in development of different regions and social groups in the State. The south-west and northern part of Odisha remain backward in many aspects of human and social development as well as in terms of educational, health, and communication infrastructure.

The most serious concern is lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water, electricity and connectivity. The lop-sided development has a serious impact on the economic growth of the State and very negatively encourages separatist tendencies, violence and extremism out of a sense of alienation and underdevelopment.

It is affecting production, social peace and quality of life. The charity, subsidy and welfare programme such as Re 1 per kg rice and few paltry schemes remain a dominant discourse in political mobilization of the poor people of the State.

Corporate private investment in mining and industry is being projected as State economic development and the role of State investment in economic development remains minimal. The development model of the Centre, schemes and programmes are being replicated by the State without any local innovation and considering the local context and relevance and a regional economic development prospective.

The costal districts remain always prone to natural calamities and every year people routinely suffer with losses and damages. It becomes the responsibility of the State to intervene in emergency through humanitarian relief.

This has been a regular State expense without a permanent solution to such tragedies. There is no plan by the State except relief to the affected people hit by flood, drought, cyclone and disaster. The biggest work done by the Government is the rescue operation and humanitarian aid. For the last seventy years, there has been nothing beyond relief.

As removal of regional disparity in development is one of the important agendas of the State which has been reflected in implementation of programmes like Biju KBK Plan, Biju Kandhamal O Gajapati plan, Gopabandhu Gramina Yojana, Western Odisha Development Council, Backward Regions Grant Fund, but these programmes have not yet created any substantial impact in removing regional disparity with low budget and lethargic bureaucracy. As a consequence, the backward regions of Odisha witness lack of local employment generation and low wage which encourages distress migration.

There are areas which still remain inaccessible and are branded as backward. Even there are districts without railway line and with zero industry. The long pending demands for Khurda –Balangir railway line and High Court bench in western part of Odisha still remain unresolved in spite of continuous uproar.

Odisha was formed as a linguistic province consisting of six districts such as Sambalpur, Koraput, Ganjam, Puri, Cuttack and Baleswar in 1936 and later in 1950 the others were merged. Broadly the whole area can be divided into three parts as areas under direct British rule, feudatory States and tribal areas which are different from the other two. So for historical and geographical reasons, the regional socio-political and socio-economic issues are different and there was absence of comprehensive administrative and legal mechanism to plan for the whole State till 1950.

The community development block concept was introduced in the early sixties but there have been serious limitations in the formation of blocks as development units without considering the purpose of such formations.

The budgetary allocation should consider the income of the district or a particular region. The regions contributing to State treasury in terms of natural resources, minerals, forest produce, and marine product ought to get preferential treatment. It is unfortunate that the people in coal, hydropower and thermal power plant area are not getting adequate electricity. It is found that the areas coming up with industrialization and urbanizations are being captured by the dominant educated social groups by displacing the poor, illiterate and marginalized social groups to the periphery and depriving them of job, business and other economic opportunities created in the area. Budgetary provision should strictly follow SCSP and TSP in spending to reach to the most backward social groups.

The State should invest to change the basic economic structure through its radical economic policy in favor of backward region through progressive land reform, universal quality English medium education, universal healthcare, irrigation, electricity, rural industrialization, NTFP and agriculture based activities, financial inclusion and tourism which always take a backseat in spite of many natural advantages.

Industrialization in the State is not integrating all regions. The State should have own power plant and attempt should be made to decentralize energy production for its domestic consumption. Solar, wind, wave and other forms of energy sources must be explored to minimize pollution and displacement.

Odisha being a land of diversity and diverse ethnic groups, the issues of different social groups need to be integrated into the State plan for an inclusive development. Regional economics and planning should be encouraged as a subject in colleges with State specific subjects like mineral economics, forest economics and marine economics.

The Government should generate adequate disaggregated socio-economic data and impact assessment reports which should be made available to policy makers, researchers, development planners and administrators.

The institute like NCDS and universities must collectively take a lead in the process in building a prospective of economic development involving political parties, CSOs and academics of the State to mitigate regional imbalances and persistent disparity in development.

Polavaram Project gets one third of irrigation outlay

The New Indian Express | May 21, 2021

In 2020-21, the budge estimate was Rs 4,804 crore and the revised estimate at end of the fiscal stood at Rs 1,328 crore.

VIJAYAWADA: With focus on completion of Polavaram Irrigation Project (PIP) and other projects under ‘Jalayagnam’, the state government has earmarked Rs 13,237.78 crore for the water resources department in the budget-2021-22 presented on Thursday. While the allocation is 12.1 per cent higher than last year, it remains to be seen how much would be actually utilised as 2020-21’s revised estimate showed utilisation of only Rs 5,238 crore out of Rs 11,805 crore.

In fact, the revised estimates of 2020-21, Rs 5,238 crore, are slightly lower than the 2019-20 account of Rs 5,335 crore as well.Like in FY 20-21, Polavaram project has been allotted over a third of the total outlay. About Rs 4,801 crore has been allocated for the national project, especially for land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement (LARR) components. In 2020-21, the budge estimate was Rs 4,804 crore and the revised estimate at end of the fiscal stood at Rs 1,328 crore.

Project works in Ongole irrigation circle including Rallapadu , Veligonda, Gundlakamma and others have been earmarked about Rs 1,685 crore, while those in Anantapur including Handri Neeva Sujala Sravanti, Tungabhadra Project High Level Canal stage and others were allocated Rs 1,042 crore.

The projects in Krishna Delta and Godavari delta systems, North coastal districts (Vamsadhara, Thotapalli and others), NTR Telugu Ganga, Kadapa (Rayalaseema Drought Mitigation Project), Kurnool district, and Tungabhadra board were allotted Rs 800 crore, Rs 752 crore, Rs 650 crore, Rs 502 crore, Rs 258 crore, and Rs 160 crore, respectively.

“The government has taken up 54 Jalayagnam projects out of which 14 have been completed. On completion of the remaining 40 projects, 27.62 lakh acres of new irrigation potential under major and medium irrigation will be created and 5.03 lakh acres of ayacut will be stabilised.

Through Jalayagnam, the government is committed to improve water availability for irrigation, thereby attaining sustainable development goal (SDG) 9 — build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation and SDG 2 — end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” Rajendranath Reddy said.

All projects to be completed in 2020-21

The finance minister revealed the progress made in various irrigation projects. BRR Vamsadhara project has achieved 86 per cent progress. Other major projects being implemented include interlinking of Vamsadhara and Nagavali rivers,Poola Subbaiah Veligonda Phase – I, , Owk right tunnel, HNSS. “Majority of works of these projects have been completed and the balance would be completed in 2021-22,” he averred.

बक्स्वाहा के जंगल में मौजूद हैं करोड़ों के हीरे, निकालने के लिए काटे जाएंगे 2.15 लाख पेड़

News Track | May 20, 2021

मध्य प्रदेश के छतरपुर में बक्सवाह हीरा खदान के लिए काटे जाने वाले 2.15 पेड़ों को बचाने के लिए मध्य प्रदेश सहित देशभर के एक लाख 12 हजार लोग सामने आ गए हैं। कोरोना के मद्देनज़र इन सभी ने फिलहाल सोशल मीडिया पर ‘सेव बक्सवाहा फॉरेस्ट’ कैंपन चलाया है, किन्तु जैसे ही कोरोना संक्रमण थमेगा ये सभी बक्सवाहा पहुंच जाएंगे। आवश्यकता पड़ी तो पेड़ों से चिपकेंगे। गत 9 मई को देशभर की 50 संस्थाओं ने इसके लिए वेबिनार किया और रणनीति तैयार कर ली है। बताया जा रहा है, यहाँ बड़ी मात्रा में हीरे मौजूद हैं, जिनकी कीमत करोड़ों में हैं, जिन्हे निकालने के लिए वहां पेड़ों की कटाई की जाएगी।

इस बीच दिल्ली की नेहा सिंह ने शीर्ष अदालत में याचिका भी दाखिल की है, जिसे सुनने के लिए शीर्ष अदालत ने मंजूर कर लिया है। बिहार में पीपल, तुलसी और नीम लगाने के देशव्यापी अभियान से संबंधित डॉ. धर्मेंद्र कुमार का कहना है कि कोरोना ने ऑक्सीजन की अहमियत बता दी है। राष्ट्रीय जंगल बचाओ अभियान से संबंधित भोेपाल की करुणा रघुवंशी ने बताया कि कई राज्यों के लोग जुड़े हैं। डॉ. धर्मेंद्र कुमार ने कहा कि कोरोना के खत्म होते ही अभियान को तेज किया जाएगा।

उन्होंने बताया कि हीरा खदान के लिए 62.64 हेक्टेयर जंगल चिह्नित है। नियम है कि 40 हेक्टेयर से ज्यादा क्षेत्र के खनन का प्रोजेक्ट है, तो उसे केंद्रीय पर्यावरण एवं वन मंत्रालय स्वीकृति देता है। वन विभाग में लैंड मैनेजमेंट के अपर प्रधान मुख्य वन संरक्षक सुनील अग्रवाल का कहना है कि इस प्रस्ताव को केंद्र सरकार में भेजा जा चुका है, किन्तु अभी मंजूरी नहीं हुई है।

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Cyclone losses pegged at ` 40 cr

Herald | May 22, 2021

PANJIM: Pointing out that the State has suffered a loss of around Rs 40 crore due to the cyclone, Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant said that it will take another two days before essential supplies like water and power are restored across Goa. He added that these losses have been mostly incurred by the Power Department.

“It will take two more days for there to be normal smooth resumption of electricity and water supply,” Sawant said.

Sawant also announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh to families of persons who had passed away on account of the cyclone.

“We are extremely saddened by the loss of lives due to Tauktae cyclone in Goa. The government has sanctioned financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh for every family of the deceased due to cyclone in the State. My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families in this time of grief,” Sawant said on Twitter.

Against the backdrop of places like Taleigao, St Cruz, Mapusa and other parts of the State still not having power as on Wednesday morning, Sawant reasoned that delays are because they are short staffed.

He added that they have been getting manpower from other States to handle the repair related works. He also added that Goans cannot do some of the manual labour required, such as rebuilding broken pillars, collapsed transformers etc and thus the requirement for labour from other States.

The Power Department had earlier stated that it had brought manpower from other States as well, some of whom were flown in by air.

“Power supply to Bardez will be restored by today (Wedenesday) evening or tomorrow,” Sawant said after having reviewed the damage caused in Bardez taluka.

He added that around 135 houses have been damaged in Bardez and that he has instructed the Deputy Collector to use funds from the District Mineral Foundation (DMF). “There has been widespread damage to property in the State,” he added.

He reiterated that the government is committed to help all those who had suffered losses due to the devastation caused by the cyclone and help them rebuild their houses.

Later in the day after his visit to Tivim and surrounding areas, the CM also visited Bicholim taluka to review what he described as ‘widespread damage to property’. Here too he said that another 135 houses have been damaged and he assured that the government will provide necessary relief to the families affected to rebuild their houses.

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