ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gold Mining Institutions in Nilgiri–Wayanad

A Historical–Institutional Perspective

An exploration of the complex development of gold mining in the Nilgiri–Wayanad region of southern India demonstrates how entwined histories disrupt simple taxonomic structures of “formality” and “informality.” Drawing on the long history of gold mining in the region that dates back to the 1830s, this paper presents a counter-example to the conventional view that institutions develop in a trajectory of informality to formality. To do this, the paper identifies three distinct phases of development in the gold mining industry of this region that mark and encompass shifts in governance of the area, global economic trends, commercial investment, property rights, government funding, influx of repatriate communities, and other social issues in the local economy. The analysis concludes that institutions in the region have evolved from formal–artisanal to formal–industrial, and then to informal–small scale.

The authors acknowledge the insightful comments of the anonymous reviewer that helped bring the paper to its current shape. This study was conducted with fi nancial and technical support from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics. SANDEE provided academic support from experts through regular meetings and interactions. The authors convey special thanks to Jean Marie Baland for reading through the drafts and helping out at different stages of this work. It also benefi ted from the fi nancial support from the Australian Research Council through the Australian National University, Canberra from its ARC LP “Going for Gold.” The fi eldwork support, especially from Manswini Karthik and the respondents, is duly acknowledged.

This paper explores categories of formal and informal as they are applied to gold mining, both historically and in the contemporary era. This temporal perspective reveals many difficulties and ambiguities that arise with the simplistic application of notions of formality to diverse forms and institutions of gold mining through time. We, therefore, propose that any suitable definition must be recognised as contextual and subjective, depending on specific concerns that are raised about gold mining. This definitional complexity has important implications for policy, which suggest the formalisation of informal (gold) mining as a solution.

We draw these conclusions from an in-depth study of gold mining in the NilgiriWayanad region of southern India between the early 19th century and the present. Using data from a single place, we build a case that challenges conventional expectations that institutions evolve from being informal to formal, and additionally emphasise the role of external rather than internal factors in precipitating such institutional changes. Given the particular institutional evolutionary path of gold mining in NilgiriWayanad, it is pertinent to reflect on these changes to suggest implications for the future of these institutions and livelihoods of miners who work within this realm.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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