Thirteen-year-old Sanjay Chhetri has a recurring fear: that one day, the dark, dank mine where he works will cave in and bury him alive.
Like thousands of children in India’s remote northeast, Chhetri begins work in the middle of the night, ready to dig pits, squat through narrow tunnels and cut coal shards.
At 1.37m, the skinny teenager is the perfect fit for a job in the lucrative mining industry in Meghalaya state, whose crudely built rat-hole mines are too small for most adults to enter.
Each day Sanjay makes his way down a series of slippery ladders in the pitch-dark, carrying two pickaxes, with a tiny flashlight strapped to his head.
Seven months into the job, he still walks gingerly, taking care not to miss a step and fall 50m.
Once he reaches the bottom, he squats as low as he can and slips into the 60cm high rat-hole, pulling an empty wagon behind him.
That’s where his nightmares begin.
“It’s terrifying to imagine the roof falling on me when I am working,” he said.
Twelve hours later, he will have earned 200 rupees (US$4) for a day’s work, more than his parents make as laborers in the state capital Shillong.
The eldest boy in a family of 10, Sanjay left school two years ago when his family could no longer pay the bills.
“It’s very difficult work. I struggle to pull that wagon once I have filled it with coal,” he said.
As he shivers in coal-stained jeans and flip-flops — revealing wrinkled feet that look like they belong to a much older man — he says his parents constantly ask him to return home to work with them.
However, he is not ready to leave the mines yet.
“I need to save money so I can return to school. I miss my friends and I still remember school. I still have my old dreams,” he said.
Mine manager Kumar Subba says children like Sanjay turn up in droves outside Meghalaya’s coal mines, asking for work.
“New kids are always showing up here. And they lie about their age, telling you they are 20 years old when you can see from their faces that they are much, much younger,” he said.
Baby-faced Surya Limu is among the most recent recruits to join Subba’s team in Rymbai Village.
Limu, who claims he is 17, left his native Nepal for Meghalaya when his father died in a house fire, leaving behind a widow and two children. Unlike his more experienced colleagues, Limu moves slowly down the precarious mine steps, his delicate features straining with the effort.
“Of course I feel scared but what can I do? I need money, how else can I stay alive?” he said.
Child labor is officially illegal in India, with several state laws making the employment of anyone under 18 in a hazardous industry a non-bailable offense.
Furthermore, India’s 1952 Mines Act prohibits coal companies from hiring anyone under 18 to work inside a mine.
However, Meghalaya has traditionally been exempt due to its special status as a northeastern state with a significant tribal population.
This means that in certain sectors like mining, customary laws overrule national regulations. Any land owner can dig for coal in the state, and prevailing laws do not require them to put any safety measures in place.
Shillong-based non-profit Impulse NGO Network says about 70,000 children are currently employed in Meghalaya’s mines, with several thousand more working at coal depots.
“The mine owners find it cheaper to extract coal using these crude, unscientific methods and they find it cheaper to hire children. And the police take bribes to look the other way,” Impulse activitst Rosanna Lyngdoh said.
After decades of unregulated mining, the state is due to enforce its first-ever mining policy later this year. The draft legislation instructs mine owners not to employ children, but it does allow rat-hole mining to continue.
“As long as they allow rat-hole mining, children will always be employed in these mines, because they are small enough to crawl inside,” Lyngdoh said.
Accidents and quiet burials are commonplace, with years of uncontrolled drilling making the rat-holes unstable and liable to collapse at any moment.
Gopal Rai, who lives with seven other miners in a 2.5m by 3m tarpaulin-covered bamboo and metal shack, compensation is rarely, if ever, paid to injured children.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) is expected to post a 25 percent year-on-year increase in sales in the first quarter of this year to US$12.91 billion, up from US$10.31 billion a year earlier, as its production is at full capacity, market advisory firm TrendForce Corp said in a note last week. The increase would help TSMC cement its leadership in the industry by taking a 56 percent market share in the global pure wafer foundry business, TrendForce said. Its forecast was in line with TSMC’s estimate in January, which pointed to a range of US$12.7 billion to US$13 billion for the
RARE POSITION: IHS Markit expects exports to increase by about 13 percent this year, as demand for electronics worldwide has recovered significantly since last year Taiwan’s economy might expand 4.1 percent this year, accelerating from a 3.11 percent pickup last year, as its exports would continue to benefit from surging demand for electronics products amid and after the COVID-19 pandemic, global research body IHS Markit said yesterday. Taiwan has been one of the world’s most resilient economies during the pandemic-triggered recession last year. Economic indicators at the beginning of this year signal improving growth momentum for its economy over the coming months, as the global economy and trade rebounds, the US-British information provider said. According to the latest IHS Markit survey of business confidence in Taiwan, the
RECRUITMENT: The latest hiring drive — for fabs in Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan — aims to catch up with growth in the company and new technology development Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) yesterday unveiled a plan to hire 9,000 people this year in the latest round of recruitment as the chipmaker races to boost capacity to alleviate a chip crunch and safeguard its technology advantage. TSMC’s talent recruitment this year might be the most ambitious in its history, while last year’s drive of 8,000 added recruits doubled the 4,000 new hires that it averaged over the preceding few years. The latest drive — for fabs in Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan — aims to catch up with growth in the company and new technology development, the Hsinchu-based chipmaker said. The
Clean energy use and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are the common consciousness of all countries in the world. Among them, the introduction of renewable energy storage systems and the promotion of electric vehicles are the unanimous implementation of governments and enterprises around the world. The most critical strategic component is the lithium ion battery. Whoever has a higher energy density, lower cost, and higher safety lithium battery will control the development trend of this wave of safer lithium battery technology. All-solid-state batteries are a goal that everyone is striving to pursue. However, the stable and large scale production of solid-state