Rat-Hole Mining in Uttarakhand: Unveiling Mining Complexities in India

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December 3, 2023

Rat-Hole Mining in Uttarakhand: Unveiling Mining Complexities in India

Understanding Rat-Hole Mining - Civilsdaily

Unveiling Rat-Hole Mining

  • Rat-hole mining, a primitive yet perilous technique, involves digging small tunnels to extract coal, known for its hazardous nature and environmental impact. It exists in two primary forms: side-cutting, tracing visible coal seams on hill slopes, and box-cutting, entailing pit digging followed by horizontal tunnel creation.

Irony of Rescue Operations

  • Recent rescue efforts in Uttarakhand, using the banned rat-hole mining method, to save workers from Assam, who ironically faced similar perils in Meghalaya, spotlight the dangers and complexities inherent in this mining practice.

The Ban and Its Reasons

  • Rat-hole mining is banned due to severe risks such as asphyxiation, mine collapse, flooding, and significant environmental degradation. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) enforced the ban in 2014, particularly in Meghalaya, a Sixth Schedule State exempt from central mining laws, where illegal mining persisted despite the prohibition.

Factors Leading to Ban Implementation

  • Decades of activism by environmental and human rights groups raised concerns, highlighting dangers and advocating against rat-hole mining. Reports exposing child labor, with an estimated 70,000 children employed, led to official acknowledgment and subsequent NGT intervention in 2014.

Evaluating Feasibility and Concerns

  • Despite its hazards, rat-hole mining has economic viability in Meghalaya due to thin coal seams, prompting the government to announce ‘scientific’ mining leases in 2023. However, skepticism looms among anti-mining activists regarding the practical implementation of sustainable and lawful mining practices.

A Murky Path Ahead

  • While the approval of ‘scientific’ mining offers a potentially safer alternative, its efficacy in replacing dangerous and unregulated rat-hole mining in unique geological and socio-political contexts like Meghalaya remains uncertain. The challenges of ensuring safe and environmentally sound mining practices persist, awaiting comprehensive solutions.

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