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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 48, New Delhi, November 14, 2020

Mining in Bundelkhand - Urgent Relief Needed for Workers | Bharat Dogra

Indictment of Exploitation and Hazards in Human Development Report

Friday 13 November 2020, by Bharat Dogra

Bundelkhand region spread over 13 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is known for its mineral wealth in the form of stones for various types of construction work, river-sand considered to be of high quality for construction work, silica sand, rock phosphate and to a lesser extent diamonds ( in Panna district). Hence its mineral wealth is considered to be of great value particularly to the construction industry.
If the mining and quarrying industry had been developed keeping in view all important considerations of health, environment protection and welfare of workers as well as nearby villagers, then this sector could have become an important source of livelihood support while also contributing to fiscal support of state governments. Unfortunately these considerations have been ignored and neglected resulting in a mining industry associated with accentuation of water scarcity and ecological ruin, exploitation of workers and increasing problems for neighbouring villagers.

Some of these problems have been documented also in the Human Development Report for Bundelkhand prepared under the Niti Ayog-UNDP Project on Human Development. This report has made several observations about the mining and quarrying sector ( mainly stone and sand) in Bundelkhand region. Firstly it says that there are bonded labor type working conditions in these mines and quarries ( or the attached crushers). Secondly working conditions are poor and several unsafe and hazardous practices are followed. Accidents often take place and compensation payment is generally not given. Lung diseases, silicosis and other diseases have been a big problem for workers and their families. There is no risk-cover, no protective gear , no medical facilities. The police is not supportive and does not register cases , this report says. Thirdly child labor exists in mines and child workers also toil in unsafe conditions.

Fourthly mining is controlled by local elites who have followed harmful practices and damaged sustainability of mines and quarries. The entire work takes place in quasi-legal conditions with collusion of mafia and political bosses. There is hardly any adherence to environmental laws. Dynamite is frequently used and there is high risk from falling stones for nearby villagers.

Several kol tribal workers also toil in mining work. The report says that kols face exploitation and are forced into semi-bonded labor. Although this report does not comment specifically on the problems on women workers, it expresses concern about the general safety and security conditions of women. This report says that the general issues of safety and security for women are far worse in Bundelkhand as compared to the parent states and the neighboring regions.

These observations of the Human Development Report for Bundelkhand are of a serious nature and the authorities should take important steps for improving the situation with a sense of urgency. Earlier the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had sent a team to Patha area of Bundelkhand several years back which was headed by a senior ( retired) police officer Chaman Lal who received widespread appreciation and acclaim as IG ( border areas) in Punjab in the critical days of terrorism for his courage as well as honesty and fair play and subsequently joined the NHRC in an honorary position as Special Rapporteur on bonded labor and jails.

This writer too was a member of this team. The report prepared by this team had also mentioned several aspects of this system of exploitation and the existence of high-risk, hazardous conditions. Hence clearly there is enough evidence on the basis of which action against exploitative systems should be taken so that much-needed relief can come to the kol tribal and other workers toiling in highly exploitative and hazardous conditions in the mines and quarries of Bundelkhand.

(The writer has written extensively on problems of Bundelkhand region. He was also a member of a team sent by the National Human Rights Commission to inquire into exploitative conditions for workers and tribals in this region.)

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