International Women's Day: Inspiring stories from day-to-day life

How Chandrani Prasad Verma became India’s first female mining engineer

When the Labour Ministry announced last month that an amendment had been effected in the Mines Act 1952 to allow women to work in underground coal mines and also work night shifts in opencast mines, many received the news with cheer. One of them was Chandrani Prasad Verma.

Now 42 years old, Chandrani was swimming against the current long ago when she chose to study mining and then zealously pursue it as a career. Chandrani is known across the country as its first female mining engineer.

“As per a rough estimate, India would have 120 women who have studied mining at the diploma or B.Tech level, but a majority of them are not employed as miners. The new rule will pave the way for mining companies to start hiring them,” says Chandrani in a telephonic conversation. Chandrani, who is now employed as principal scientist with the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research in Nagpur, says she developed an interest in mining even as a child, thanks to stories about mines that her father, a mining engineer in Western Coalfields in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, would narrate to her. She recalls how she would put on her father’s mining boots and shirt and pretend to be a miner.

One day, her father did not return from work, due to a fire mishap at the mines.

Chandrani Prasad Verma at a manganese mine, near Maharashtra. Photo: Special Arrangement

Chandrani Prasad Verma at a manganese mine, near Maharashtra. Photo: Special Arrangement  


“My father did not come home for three days. He was part of the team that had to handle the situation. He explained to us how things were brought under control,” says Chandrani.

If there had been any niggling doubt about taking up mining as a career, this incident settled it: Chandrani decided that it would be mining, and nothing else.

Chandrani got admission to a diploma programme in mining, with some difficulty. Although there was no rule that women should not be allowed to take up the programme, the management was reluctant to offer her a seat. “The next year, the college brought in the rule that the programme was not open for women,” says Chandrani, who had by then started accompanying her father to the mines to understand all the practical aspects of the work.

The struggle

Later, for a B.Tech degree in mining, the doors of most colleges that had that programme, were firmly shut on her face.

“I had to fight for my admission in the court, and this battle went on for a year,” says Chandrani, who got admission as a ‘special case’. Finding a job in the mining field was not easy — and that was expected. Finally, in 2001, she got a job at CSIR as a project fellow.

Chandrani has a Ph.D. in rock mechanics and numerical modelling.

How does a typical day at work go for Chandrani?

She carries out both field and research work, and it involves studying the stability of pillars, making sure the equipment that is used is safe and assessing extraction risks.

“We don’t have a fixed schedule; sometimes work at a site goes on for three to four days or eight to nine hours at a stretch,” she says.

While surveying an underground mine, she is generally accompanied by two or three colleagues.

However, there will be exceptions to this rule.

“Once when an instability issue occurred at a mine site, I was the only one around to investigate it. Though I had done the job correctly, they were not certain, simply because I was a woman in the mines,” says Chandrani. She believes that with more women joining the profession, there will be a change in attitude at the mines.




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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 4:27:05 PM |

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