The authorities in Banyumas regency, Central Java, are overwhelmed by illegal gold mining activities in Paningkaban subdistrict, Gumelar district, saying that the issue affects the livelihoods of hundreds of families in the region.
“It’s really hard for us to close down the activities. We are helpless,” secretary of the Banyumas Mineral Resource and Energy Office, Yarsono, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
He said that because of gold mining activities, many locals who previously earned a living by selling meatballs or running kiosks had left their previous occupations, lured by the more promising prospects of mining.
He also said that his office had requested a license from the central government but had not received a response. “For this kind of mining, we don’t have the authority to issue a license. It must be issued by the central office in Jakarta.”
Miners, who are mostly locals, said they could collect a minimum of two grams of raw gold per day, which they could sell for Rp 250,000 (US$26.5) per gram, depending on market prices.
“There were initially gold artisans who came here to buy our gold. Now it [the selling] is managed by the subdistrict cooperative,” said Bunal Prakoso, chairman of the Sumber Rejeki Cooperative that was established by the miners for that purpose.
Previously, according to Bunal, the miners sold their gold directly to gold artisans the same day they collected it. Now, they sell it to the cooperative once a week after having collected a larger amount of gold.
Area mining activities also involve hundreds of local housewives. They normally sift through the waste of the mining activities and reclaim roughly Rp 50,000 in gold per day from it.
Paningkaban subdistrict head Sutardjo was grateful that a gold mine had been found in his region. He said the mining site currently covered an area of about 10 hectares and said it all belonged to the local residents.
“It is undeniable that the yields from gold mining activities have been a great contribution to the people’s budgets,” Sutardjo said at his office recently.
Sutardjo also said that upon the regency administration’s request, the miners had tried to fulfill all the requirements needed to get a license for their activities.
“We don’t expect to have the activities here closed down. The people are ready to fight if it [gold mining] will be closed down,” he said.
But all that glitters is not gold. Because of the lack of regulation, hundreds of shallow mine shafts, averaging 30 meters deep, are just left as they are by miners. The abandoned mine shafts emit offensive odors because of the gases produced by mining waste products.
Accidents have also claimed the lives of several local miners, mostly due to miners’ habits of digging tunnels without installing proper supporting devices.
Area miners usually begin work on their claims in the morning and continue until the afternoon.
Over 60 different groups of miners, comprising an average of eight workers each, operate at the mining site presently. These groups reportedly take in revenues of Rp 1 billion per week.