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Unintended collieries: theorizing people and resources in India

CollectionsANU Resources, Environment & Development Group (RE&D)
Title: Unintended collieries: theorizing people and resources in India
Author(s): Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala
Keywords: collieries
unauthorized mines
local economy
resource curse
local communities
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP), Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School for Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Resource Management in Asia-Pacific Program (RMAP) Working Paper: No. 44
Unauthorized mines are common features in mineral-rich regions of poorer countries and India is no exception. They come to public attention only when there is an accident causing deaths of miners and creating vulnerability for other people. Whether they are a law and order problem including safety issues, or whether there are important social and economic questions involved has yet to be thrashed out. The mining industry, at regional, national and international levels, is ambivalent towards such mining, confusing unauthorized mines with small-scale mines and drawing the attention away from their informal nature to the size factor. This paper looks at the problem of such mining in the light of my empirical research on collieries in India. These I call the ‘unintended’ collieries, especially unwanted by administrators, but in my view serving a significant role in the local economy. I have also tried to theorize the wide occurrence of unintended mines in the light of the 'resource curse' thesis proposed by economists and have found that it fails to explain why local communities indulge in illegitimate activities. I propose that instead of seeing resources as the curse, historical and political economic approaches in understanding community responses to ‘resources’ and ‘development’ need to be understood. The alternative thesis is that peasant societies are trying to reclaim a certain part of the local resource appropriated by mining companies and thus lost to them. Therefore, what is seen as illegitimate mining is actually the local community's way of asserting their traditional rights to local mineral resources. Finally, I stress the need for a new moral economy for mining regions in which communities will play a powerful role in the local economic processes.


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