Mica, An Undesirable Truth of the Nation

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Author- Shuvasmita Nanda


Introduction


Mica, a group of thirty- seven crystalline minerals named after a Latin word micare which stands for” to shine, flash or glitter”. The defined mineral has hundreds of industrial operations which include adding luster to objects starting from car paints to cosmetics. In India, it's presence is distributed extensively and is exclusively encountered in primitive, metamorphic, and sedimentary regimes particularly in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana.

The commercially significant mica minerals are muscovite (potash or white mica) and phlogopite (magnesium or amber mica). India for over a hundred years has experienced the monopoly in the production and export of the above-explained mica to the world. While in recent times, there has been a steady deterioration in both production and exportation of mica. The falling demand for natural mica in the world market is realized by artificial or technologically advanced modern substitutes. Even though there are plentiful resources available in the country for meeting both domestic and international needs, the decline of demand has affected the community in every way possible.


Reasons


The spelled-out reason behind the fall is the existence of numerous surrogates such as alumina, ceramics, bentonite, glass, mylar polystyrene, fused quartz, silicon, talc, Bakelite, Teflon, nylon synthetic mica. Sheet mica is also employed in electrical components, electronics, and atomic force microscopy. Many products can also be substituted for mica in electrical and electronic uses which include Acrylic, Bene lex, etc.

The unremarked yet most significant reason behind the fall is the use of child labor for mining the mineral from the soil. Because of this, many industries have withdrawn or reduced their utilization of mica produced in India.


Cosmetics, Child labor, and Mica

The decline in Mica consumption is also much seen in the international cosmetics or makeup industry among them is a UK based brand Lush cosmetics which has claimed of completely swapping natural mica with synthetic mica a bio-degradable alternative created in a lab and have announced their products mica-free as of from 2017. In cosmetics industry mica is used predominantly in everything starting from high-end eye shadows palettes to colorful lipsticks, listed as ‘mica,’ ‘potassium aluminum silicate,’ and ‘CI 77019,’ on ingredient lists. It’s the product behind the light glow of every eye cream or body lotion, providing brightness to toothpaste and also adds a subtle radiance to BB creams. Mica’s delicate shimmer is one of the biggest pillars of modern makeup while most of these needs are mostly consummated from the high- quality mica belt of Bihar and Jharkhand, where child labor and workers exploitation is a norm. According to a March 2018 report of a nongovernmental organization Terre des Hommes (TDH), an estimated 22,000 children work in these Indian mica mines , where about 60% of the world's supply is extracted.

It is believed that children as young as five years work in these mines operated illegally by mafias who have no issues with these abrupt inhumane use of child laborers. The children in these mines work from dawn till dusk shimmying into small man-made tunnels in embankments all over the area armed with ice picks, hammers and baskets carefully chip into the sides and back of small pits to loosen dirt and rock before bringing them out carefully. Then the children take turns for dumping their baskets over a sifting tool where they clean the extracted contains on a netted wooden frame (sifting tool) hence revealing a handful of mica, a shimmery underground composite forming from many years. The hard-work never being proportionate with the wage rate which is 20-30 rupees for a day’s work. It not only keeps children away from school but also places their lives in danger.

As working in those mines involves issues in the respiratory tract like asthma, silicosis, tuberculosis, lung problems, and frequent mine collapses also causes severe injuries, fractures, lifetime body impairments, and many times death. These children being aware of the fact yet have no choices as they are bounded by the economic conditions of their family. Most of these mines are present in the state of Bihar and Jharkhand, also termed the country’s mica belt out of which 70 percent of mines are operated illegally.

The mica belt being the poorest region of the country has the highest illiteracy rate and unemployment. Some families have small plots of lands to farm but the soil is not fertile, yielding very little to be devoured, so the children are forced to work to make their ends meet. A 2016 report by Thomson Reuters Foundation states that a minimum of seven children are being throttled to death in just two months.


Selling Procedure

The raw material excavated will be secured by a broker who will sell it to an exporter who then trades it to a manufacturer, usually in China. It is later milled into a fine pearly pigment which is then sold to international beauty companies for boosting a reflective finish in eye shadow, blush, lipstick, and more. Everyone except the people mining are financially supported by this complex transactional process. The hand to hand process contributes to the exporters to a greater degree, saving the yield low while allowing them to exploit the people mining it.


History

Mica is being produced in India from millenniums earlier, locals managed to use it for decoration and Ayurvedic medicine. While in the 19th century, everything changed, British colonizers identified the mineral and declared the area "the mica belt". At the time of independence in 1947, there were 700 miners with 20,000 workers. Later in the past 20th century, the wealthy USSR collapsed; creating a mini mica recession, and ultimately, the Indian government stopped monitoring the mines completely


Present Laws and their effect

According to the India’s Constitution, Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986 and Minimum wage(industry) convention of the ILO 1919, children below 14 years are not obliged to work in hazardous industries, making the provided service illegal. In the 1980s the government made mica mining illegal giving reasons like prevention of deforestation but failed to close mines or redirect workers to a new industry creating an economic vacuum that still exists. In present-day India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has completed a survey of children working in mines throughout Jharkhand and parts of Bihar, although officials said the results are not ready to be made public.

Jharkhand state government has partnered with Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) to end child labor mines and have successfully rescued 3,400 children from the mines since 2005 and placed them in schools. It is estimated that almost 20,000 children were working in 2016 in the mica mining region. In 2018 the children commission and Jharkhand government recruited teachers and childcare workers to determine the number of children working in mines and the number dropped from school.

Corporate Inaction

Campaigners say the survey will provide evidence of child labor, leading to severe pressure on multinational corporations. The death monitored by KSCF was two deaths in 2018 which they assume is probably even more as bodies are often not recovered being dunged in the rubble or they are quickly cremated by the mine operators. A Paris based Responsible mica Initiative (RMI) was set up in 2016 to eliminate child labor and improve working conditions in Indian mica mines within five years. Eight companies joined RMI this year, bringing the total to 47, according to executive director Fanny Fremont five of them are India-based processing companies rather than multinational buyers of mica. The organization has no automotive brands except Philips but is interested to seek more as they are the biggest mica purchasers. It still includes cosmetic firms like Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Chanel. RMI has initiated many programs to eradicate child labor to improve access to education, healthcare, and government welfare schemes.

Conclusion

Mica is one of the abundant natural resources present in India.But the unreguralized practice involved for its excavation is creating chaos resulting into a human and economical havoc. Even though, both government and non-governmental organizations are working for the betterment of the situation yet the method used is very slow and less-productive not leaving much impact or providing lesser advantages to its seekers. The death rate, illiteracy, and arbitrariness of the employers are still prevalent till the present day; hence, the only solution could be the collective working of all organizations providing education and better condition to the workers leading to the development of the community.


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