Coal and Mining Sector

Rat Hole Mining in Meghalaya

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Hazards of rat-hole mining

Rat-hole coal mining had sucked the life out of a village in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district.

Q.Despite a ban, rat-hole mining continues to prevail as an important practice in Meghalaya. What are the issues associated with it? Discuss. (150W)

Rat Hole Mining

  • It is a primitive and hazardous method of mining for coal, with tunnels that are only 3-4 feet in diameter (hence, rat-hole), leading to pits ranging from 5-100 sq. mt deep.
  • It involves digging of very small tunnels in which workers, more often children, enter and extract coal.
  • Although the coal is of bad quality, people see it as a treasure chest.
  • In backward regions, where there is the loss of livelihood, lack of employment opportunities and under-education, people see rat-hole mines as an opportunity to earn daily bread.
  • A major portion of these employees are children, who are preferred because of their thin body shape and ease to access depths.

Despite a ban

The National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya in 2014 on a petition that said acidic discharge from the mines was polluting the Kopili River. But the practice continues unabated.

Threats of such mining

  • Water from rivers and streams in the mining area has become unfit for drinking and irrigation and is toxic to plants and animals.
  • Layers of rock above the coal removed during mining contain traces of iron, manganese and aluminium that get dissolved from mining sites through the acid run-off or are washed into streams as sediment.
  • There are several mishaps where workers get trapped to death due to the sudden collapse of such mines.
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