Legislation means that local trade in flakes is considered illegal while on-ground trade is clandestine and vibrant
Mica flakes may be classified as ‘forest produce’ in Jharkhand after state legislative assembly member, Neera Yadav, demanded so in a session on March 16, 2020.
According to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, peat, surface soil, rock and minerals (including limestone, laterite, mineral oils, and all products of mines or quaries), when found in or brought from a forest are considered forest produce.
However, the collection of mica became illegal after the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, was promulgated. The mineral is not categorised as forest produce since then.
This means that mica collection is a non-forest activity and cannot be undertaken without prior permission from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Till the coming of the act, India was the largest producer and exporter of mica, but now it has dropped to eighth position, according to a 2019 report on the issue by Sanjoy Patnaik, an Odisha-based independent researcher.
“Until 1980, India was the forerunner in the production and export of mica. It is recorded that India had been one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of mica, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the net mica production in the world,” the report said.
Yet, mica flakes are still collected, mostly from forest areas and provide livelihood to around three lakh people in Koderma (of which Yadav is MLA) and Giridih districts of Jharkhand. The flakes are known as dhibra locally.
“Since close to 80 per cent of dhibra is collected from forest areas, the local dhibra trade is considered illegal and theoretically non-existent, whereas the actual trade on ground is vibrant and clandestine,” Patnaik said.
According to him, the mica market is worth around Rs 3,000-4,000 crore, but due to legislations, the people collecting the mica are barely able to make anything. A family of three spending 10 hours a day in the forest can collect about 20 kgs of dhibra, the sale of which fetches them about Rs 1,000 per week, Patnaik said.
On February, 2015, mica was declared a minor mineral by the Union government.
“There are enough court cases, like in Assam, where minor minerals like silt has been recognised as a forest produce. The government should do the same for mica, which will not only ensure livelihood to people, but also generates revenue for the state,” Patnaik said.
Mica mining in India dates back to the mid- and late 19th century when railway tracks were being laid down in the Bengal-Nagpur zone. By the 1950s, around 700 mica mines were operational, employing approximately 24,000 people.
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