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In the dark world of white clay

Kaolin or China clay or white clay remains a largely untapped mineral resource in West Bengal. The state has 14% of the country’s China clay reserves. But in the existing mining and processing activities raise questions on its impact on the environment, human health, and rights of the workers. Though clay mining is being done for decades in districts such as Birbhum district in West Bengal, it has continued without following measures for ensuring the protection of the environment and the people. Local communities complain about impacts to health, water, and farmlands but are forced to live with the conditions, as the mining sector gives them direct or indirect employment. The mineral is used in the manufacturing of cement, ceramic, plastic, paint, rubber, and much more.

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A man cycles past a mound of China clay and debris from mining dumped at the side of the road in Kharia, West Bengal.
Clay dust coming from the clay mining processing unit. Residents and workers complain of breathing problems and water contamination due to the excess dust.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
China clay cakes made from mined China clay are ready to be distributed from the processing unit in Birbhum district, West Bengal. The mineral is used in manufacturing some essential items: cement, ceramic, plastic, paints, and much more.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
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Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
Workers inside a China clay processing unit
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
Dust inside the processing unit.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
A worker at the China clay processing unit. The absence of workers’ unions in the clay mining sector in some areas has led to laborers being unable to negotiate better wages and benefits.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
China clay is mined from open cast mines in Birbhum, West Bengal. The state holds 14% of India’s China clay or kaolin reserves but the industry remains largely untapped.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
A closed China clay mine adjacent to a paddy field. Farmers in Kharia highlight the issue of water contamination and farms turning infertile due to the mining activity.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
Children playing mound of China clay and debris from mining dumped at the side of the road in Kharia, West Bengal.
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
China clay or white clay or kaolin in a storage unit
Clay Mine, West Bengal, Kharia
The constant motion of heavy vehicles carrying white clay has led to bad road conditions in Kharia.