Mining activities are undertaken for about eight months in a year as the mines close down during the monsoon season. Lands are taken on lease from the Department of Mines, Government of Orissa through the state pollution control board (SPCB).During our visit it was not clear how land transfers take place for private lands and the procedures being followed for obtaining leases from the government and what the cost of compensation or rent paid to the owners was. Discussions with workers, supervisors and land-owners on the field indicate that most of the leases were private transactions between the landowners and mine owners/contractors. The landowners are paid approximately of Rs.100, 000 for an acre of land for one year of lease. Digging operations are taking place both manually and through heavy machinery . Most of the mines did not have permanent workers except for the smelter of the Jindals and NMDC. Mining operations are so prolific that we were told even a medical doctor in the government hospital has a lease. Clearly the prevailing attitude was to just grab a lease either legally or illegally and
become rich overnight.
The mining activity in the iron ore mines consists of extraction of the ore, breaking the rocks into small stones and pebbles and into fine powder. Iron ore is bought and sold in all these forms. The smelter at Hospet-Sandur owned by the Jindals, processes the ore into rolled sheets of iron. Therefore, the mining area has vast stretches of extraction sites, stone crushers , stockyards, dump yards, weighing and permit yards, lorry yards, and wagon loading points across the railway line , While most of the leases given by the mines department are on the hills spreading across 180kms of Khurda & Badbil district, the smaller private mines have extended into the agricultural lands almost as close as Khurda & Badbiltown itself. The shift to mining from agriculture was both a result of desperation as it has a quick profit motive. In many places it was found that the land-owners have experienced crop failure due to heavy dust pollution in the neighboring mining lands and have been forced to convert their fields into mine sites as well. Interviews with contractors, mine owners, mine workers and local media indicate that there may be large black market transactions with exporters from China, Korea and other countries and with the traders within the country. As most of the works are sub-contracted, it is difficult to trace the routes or pin down accountability both with regard to workers and to the environmental issues.
The Mining Economy
India is the fourth largest iron ore producing country in the world. The demand for the mineral has up scaled due to the low prices and high quality of the ore (62% iron content) present. The Indian ore is cheaper because of the very cheap labor and low transport costs. Therefore, the9situation we saw in the field is one of serious human rights violations of mine workers and the highly exploitative conditions of their work. We found that there were different types of complex wage employment systems being followed in the mines. The large companies like NMDC have permanent and daily wage labor. The daily wages paid for men is around Rs.70-80 and for women around Rs.50 and for childrenRs.35. They mostly work on piece rate basis. A family earns about Rs.1000-1500 a week during the peak period. On an average, a rough head count of the workers revealed tha t there were about 100 workers in one acre of mining activity. We found that 50% or even more (as there are almost three children for every two adults) of them were children of all age groups starting from five years. They were mainly girls and very young boys. All the mines we visited had child laborers. In fact, the entire mining economy gets to be projected as a ‘sustainable’ and ‘profitable’ industry because of the large scale child labor employed and the flouting of all social and environmental laws. The mine owners say they only employ the adults but as the families live at the mine site thechildren join in the mining activity and say that the parents force them to employ the children. The parents admit that it is very hard work for the children but that they cannot survive Otherwise. We tried to assess the extent of child labor involved where we took a conservative estimate of 2000 hectares of private mines where migrant and child labor are employed. A head count of the mines we visited revealed that there were100 workers per acre of whom 50% were children, mostly girls which means there are at least 4,00,000 daily wage laborers in the iron ore mines of which 50% (2,00,000) or more are child laborers. The real figures would certainly be higher than this estimate if we take into consideration the illegal mines, the stockyards, loading points, trucks, tippers and other machinery all of which employ very high number of child laborers. A proper investigation is urgently required to have an accurate picture of the extent of child labor involved.