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General Studies 2 >> Governance

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1. Context
After efforts to release 41 workers trapped in the collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel faced another major setback Sunday  the auger joint of the machine drilling through the debris broke  rescuers spent the last two days cutting through the blade stuck inside the rescue pipes and removing it piece by piece
Rat Hole Mining in Meghalaya - Civilsdaily
2. What is rat-hole mining?
  • Rat-hole mining is a method of coal mining, particularly prevalent in the northeastern state of Meghalaya in India. It involves digging narrow, vertical pits or small horizontal tunnels into the ground to extract coal from thin seams. These pits, often no larger than a single person can fit into, resemble the size of holes used by rats, hence the name "rat-hole mining."
  • Miners typically descend into these small pits using ropes, ladders, or makeshift structures. Once underground, they manually extract the coal using basic tools like pickaxes, shovels, and baskets. The extracted coal is then brought to the surface for processing and transportation.
  • This form of mining is characterized by its hazardous working conditions, lack of safety measures, and environmental concerns due to the unregulated nature of the operations. Additionally, it often leads to issues such as land degradation, soil erosion, and risks of accidents for the miners involved
  • Rat hole mining, commonly seen in Meghalaya, involves extracting coal from narrow, flat layers in the ground. The term "rat hole" specifically describes these tight pits dug into the earth, usually just big enough for one person to enter and collect coal.
  • After digging these pits, miners descend using ropes or bamboo ladders to access the coal layers. Using basic tools like pickaxes, shovels, and baskets, they manually extract the coal. Another method within rat-hole mining, known as box-cutting, involves creating rectangular openings ranging from 10 to 100 square meters.
  • From these openings, vertical pits are dug, reaching depths of 100 to 400 feet. Once the coal seam is located, small tunnels resembling rat holes are carved horizontally to facilitate coal extraction by the workers
3. Environmental and Safety Concerns
  • Rat hole mining poses significant safety and environmental hazards. The mines are typically unregulated, lacking safety measures such as proper ventilation, structural support, or safety gear for the workers.
  • Additionally, the mining process can cause land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution.
  • This method of mining has faced severe criticism due to its hazardous working conditions, environmental damage, and numerous accidents leading to injuries and fatalities.
  • Despite attempts by authorities to regulate or ban such practices, they often persist due to economic factors and the absence of viable alternative livelihoods for the local population
4. Banning of Rat hole mining
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned the practice in 2014, and retained the ban in 2015. The NGT observed, “It is also informed that there are umpteen number of cases where by virtue of rat-hole mining, during the rainy season, water flooded into the mining areas resulting in death of many… individuals including employees/workers.”
The order was in connection with Meghalaya, where this remained a prevalent procedure for coal mining. The state government then appealed the order in the Supreme Court.
Source: Indianexpress

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