Giridih: With blonde coloured hair, a smart phone in hand, Rahul Mohali, is just like another Indian teenager, who loves riding bicycles and moving around in comfortable bermuda, doing what most of his age do – updating his Facebook status or networking with his online friends. But Rahul is a digital age miner.
A fleeting glance, as he rides his bicycle, will make him pass off as any other teenager enjoying a ride. But a closer look reveals a pair of pick-axes neatly perched on the back seat of his cycle.
Now, what does a pick-axe have to do with a 16-year-old teenager? Well, a lot. For Rahul, is not a regular teen. He is a class eight drop out who makes a living by climbing down pits and excavating coal for his employer. And guess what? He has been doing this since he was just 12 years of age.
Digital age or rat hole miner
This active Facebook user spends around seven to eight hours inside the pit to earn a daily wage of Rs 400. Hailing from Akdoni Kala, Baniyadih in Giridih, Jharkhand, he is not the only teenager to do this for a living. Many like him go inside these pits to eke-out- a living.
“My father was addicted to alcohol. After his death the responsibility came upon my elder brother and me to take care of our family. But soon my brother, who also was a miner like me, left for better prospects in a city. But then that hasn’t deterred me from going down in the pit. What to do, this is my only source of income,” rues Rahul.
Mineral rich Jharkhand has both legal and illegal mining for several minerals, including coal and mica going on parallely. Giridih, Koderma and Dhanbad are notorious for illegal mining.
Business on a decline
Come winter and there is a sudden surge in illegal mining, while monsoon brings a closure to it. Beniyadih, Satigath, 16 Number and Budiakhad used to be major center for illegal mining in Giridih.
But, in the last two years, Jharkhand government has tightened its noose leading to a reduction in the rate and frequency of illegal coal mining. And it’s commonly believed that in Giridih illegal mining yielded more coal than legal excavation.
“Actually, the demand has reduced so there is not much production. There were many factories which were purchasing those coals, but now that the administration has categorically warned such factories not to buy illegal coal, the market has gone down for the illegal miners,” said a Central Coalfield Limited (CCL) official, Giridih office on condition of anonymity.
While officials are claiming that the market has gone down, people like Rahul, who have no alternate business plans, sadly adds, “We know that there is no future for us, add to that the fear of such pits caving in but now we can understand the natural indicators that help us predict which pit will cave in and which will not. We have no other option but to survive in such adverse condition.”
Experience over age
But isn’t he just 16, how can he at such a tender age make such accurate predictions? “The coal pits that have loose coal are not well bounded or have water coming out are the ones that have a risk of caving in. We, in most cases avoid mining in such pits, as there is a risk involved. Some continue and face consequences also,” he said.
Rahul has been lucky, no one from his family has been trapped or killed inside the pit but Dinesh, another rat hole miner was not. Thirty five year old Dinesh Mohli’s brother Vinod Mohli, who was in his 20’s died inside the pit in 2008. Dinesh has been mining since he was 17 years of age.
In Giridih, the contractor of every illegal pit gets Rs 70 for every 40 kilograms coals, of which Rs 40 is what the rat hole miner get. The illegal excavation of coal is 24×7 job and in one shift, around 10 people work, 6 inside the mine and the rest assist them in bringing out the excavated coal. But everyone gets equal share. Around 100 buckets, each bucket of 40 kilograms, is brought out daily, thereby each getting to earn Rs 400 for his shift.
With the government failing to provide alternative jobs to elder family members, like Rahul’s or completely shutting down these illegal units, it looks like many more teenager will continue risking their lives in a bid to make a living.