Satellite images make it clear that there are far more illegal mica mines in India than previously thought - and more child labor than anywhere else.

More than 22,000 children dig for mica in eastern India. Mica, as the mineral is called in technical jargon, is a raw material in demand for the automotive, electronics and cosmetics industries. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), mining work, such as searching for mica, is one of the "worst forms of child labour". The youngest children are said to be just four years old. Hundreds of children globally have not survived the work in recent years.

World demand has increased by 75 percent since 2016

Because the Indian parliament wanted to save the forests in Jharkhand and Bihar from being cut down in 1980 with the Forest Conservation Act, it banned all mining activities. Mica mining has been practiced in India since the 1920s. Since then, a huge amount of mica debris has accumulated. But with the law, the mining companies withdrew from the area and gave up their mines. In the 1960s, mica was mined in more than 430 legal mines, in 1986 there were only 73 mines, today there are only a few mines that are operated legally. 

At the same time, the demand for the raw material has continued to rise in the wake of the world economy and globalization, by 75 percent since 2016 alone. The demand for mica paper, which is recycled from mica scrap, has increased many times over, especially in the electrical and electronics industry, as it is heat-resistant and has excellent insulation properties. With demand, prices rose. And the forgotten mica scrap in the old mines, formerly just a waste product, became the main source of income for an entire region.

We analyzed multispectral satellite data from NASA's Landsat satellite to detect mica minerals from space. Areas with a high concentration of above-ground mica are marked purple on the map. Analysis initially confirmed that Jharkand is teeming with mica. Zooming in using Google Earth, we identified many of the old mines, some of which have more than tripled the cleared area compared to 2016.

Link: https://www.zeit.de/wissen/2022-05/glitter-indien-illegale-minen