Slate Mining Community

Khanyara and Dari villages are the principal centres associated with slate mining activities which are situated, nearly 10-15 Km N-E of Dharamshala. Narwana and Yole in the S-E and Bhagsunag (Kajlot village commune) in the N-W are the two other slate bearing areas in the vicinity where slate mining is continuing.

From 1952 until 1997, the Khanayara stone quarries were one of India’s only mines practicing community-based mineral resource management. Before the mine’s closure, they were controlled by the two Gram Panchayats (rural self-government bodies), of the Dari and Khanayara villages, who would distribute mining rights to the villagers (who acted as contractors), each local family being granted one contract every year. The majority of contractors actually came from socially disadvantaged such as the indigenous and other lower castes.

This system enjoyed considerable success, and unlike most of the panchayats across India, which are strapped forcash, the Khanayara and Dari panchayats boasted much healthier coffers, earning an income of up to Rs. 5 lakhs ($10,000) per annum. Even more encouraging, mining activity kept most of the local community employed.

The most positive spin-off of this kind of community-based management approach was that the two panchayats could now initiate a series of development projects, funding them with their cut of the profits from local mining ventures.

Some of the community developments launched by the Khanayara panchayat included constructing a nice panchayat bhawan or building with a restroom for mineworkers, setting up a 12-bed hospital, expanding and refurbishing the local high school, adding six buildings to the local primary school, not to mention repairing and constructing roads and streets in and around the villages.

This community-based resource management provided an inspirational model for other panchayats across India. The following skilled and unskilled workers were employed in the slate mining operations:

  • Contractor (Karigar as well, in most of the cases)
  • Zamindar (supervisor)
  • Slate excavators (Karigars)
  • Slada / meth (cutting specialists, who dresses the big of pieces slate into small pieces of slate)
  • Labourers (involved in carrying slate)

In 1997, a high court ruling banned mining in the region, claiming that the local mining practices were environmentally destructive and unsafe, and transferred control of the land and the slate mines to the state government. Later, during focus group discussions, local villagers talked passionately about how mining rights were taken away for environmental reasons even though their mining operations were small-scale. They agreed that the mining practices they employed were outdated, and polluted the surrounding environment, but they angrily explained that the massive government- backed development projects caused ecological destruction on a much larger scale.

Complicating things even more, since closure of the mines the region’s population has increased dramatically, and the previous two panchayats of Khanayara and Dari, have each split into three panchayats, making six in total.

In 2001, Dari and Khanayara panchayats were divided into in total 6 gram panchayats as following:

Khanyara panchayat: 1. Khanyara Khas, 2. Sokni Da Kot, 3.Sidhpur

Dari panchayat: 1. Upper Dari, 2. Lower Dari, 3. Barol

According to the revenue records, however, the local common lands, covering 625 hectares, still remains under the names of the Dari and Khanayara panchayats – in other words, local titles haven’t been amended to include the four newly designated panchayats.

The sudden closure of the region’s slate mines had a devastating impact on the lives of the Khanayara villagers, and many in the local community found themselves jobless with no prospect of finding other employment. Some reports estimate that up to 20,000 locals lost their jobs, and mine closures didn’t only affect the mineworkers, but also all the workers supporting the miners, such as mule owners, truckers, shopkeepers and other local businessmen.

Girls can no longer find husbands, as their families can’t afford to pay the dowries to the bridegroom’s family, starvation is widespread, as families have no money to pay for food and other essentials, and migration is common, with villagers moving away in search of employment.

On a more positive note, the lack of mining jobs means parents have to look elsewhere for opportunities, and are now encouraging their children to go to school in the hope that they can find higher paid jobs in the urban centres, offering brighter future prospects.

Volunteers will get an opportunity to interact and observe the slate miners in the region to better understand the community and the key issues and challenges faced by them in terms of livelihood, education, healthcare and public services.