Rat-Hole Mining

Rat-Hole Mining

News: Recently, Rat Hole Mining method has been used to evacuate 41 workers who were trapped inside Uttarakhand's Silkyari tunnel.

What is Rat-Hole Mining?
• Rat-hole mining is a primitive and hazardous method of coal mining, usually practiced in the state of Meghalaya, India.
• It involves digging very small tunnels, usually about 3-4 feet high, which workers, often children, enter to extract coal.

Types of Rat-Hole Mining:
• Side-cutting: Narrow tunnels are dug in the hill slopes, and workers go inside the holes to find the coal seam.
• Box-cutting: Rectangular openings are made, which can vary up to 10 to 100 sq m. Manual labor removes the coal, loads it into a wheelbarrow or bucket, and dumps it in a nearby unmined area.

Concerns:
• Rat-hole mining posed risks such as asphyxiation, mine collapse, and flooding due to poor ventilation, lack of structural support, and inadequate safety measures.
• Unregulated mining led to land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution with high concentrations of sulphates, iron, and toxic heavy metals.
• The acidic runoff from these mines, known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), has been particularly harmful, degrading water quality and reducing biodiversity in affected water bodies.

Why was Rat hole mining banned?
• Rat-hole mining was banned by India’s National Green Tribunal in 2014 due to concerns for the environment and labor conditions.
• Environmental Damage: The practice of rat-hole mining has led to deforestation and land degradation. The water sources of many rivers, especially in the Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic. The water also has a high concentration of sulphates, iron, and toxic heavy metals, low dissolved oxygen (DO), and high BOD, showing its degraded quality.
• Unsafe Labor Conditions: Rat-hole mining involves digging very small tunnels, usually only 3-4 feet high, which workers (often children) enter and extract coal.
• Unscientific Practice: Rat-hole mining of coal is an unscientific practice to extract coal through narrow tunnels into the ground. The state (Meghalayan) government has challenged the NGT ban in the Supreme Court. 

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