Coal and Mining Sector

Understanding Rat-Hole Mining


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Rat-Hole Mining, Coal reserves in NE

Mains level: NA


Central Idea

  • The rescue operation in Uttarakhand using rat-hole mining, a method banned for its hazardous nature and environmental impact, brings to light the complexities and challenges of mining practices in India.

What is Rat-Hole Mining?

  • Description: A primitive and hazardous method of mining involving digging small tunnels, just large enough for a person to crawl through, to extract coal.
  • Types:
    • Side-Cutting: Following a visible coal seam on hill slopes.
    • Box-Cutting: Involves digging a pit and then creating horizontal tunnels.
  • Irony: Thecued workers from Assam, a region that lost lives to rat-hole mining in Meghalaya, were ironically saved using the same method.

Why is Rat-Hole Mining Banned?

  • Location: Prevalent in Meghalaya, a Sixth Schedule State where central mining laws don’t apply.
  • Risks: Asphyxiation, mine collapse, flooding, and severe environmental impacts.
  • NGT Ban (2014): Due to safety hazards and environmental degradation, including river pollution.
  • Continued Illegal Mining: Despite the ban, illegal mining and transportation persist, with significant loss of lives (e.g., 17 miners drowned in 2018 in East Jaintia Hills).

Factors Leading to the NGT Ban

  • Activism: Environmental and human rights groups highlighted the dangers for two decades.
  • Child Labor: Reports estimated around 70,000 children, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal, were employed in these mines.
  • Official Acknowledgment: Under pressure, the State admitted to child labor in 2013, leading to the NGT ban in 2014.

Feasibility of such mining

  • Economic Viability: Thin coal seams in Meghalaya make rat-hole mining more economically feasible than open-cast mining.
  • Coal Reserves: Meghalaya has significant coal reserves dating back to the Eocene age.
  • Government Action: Meghalaya announced the approval of mining leases for ‘scientific’ mining in 2023.
  • Concerns: Skepticism remains among anti-mining activists about the implementation of sustainable and legal mining practices.


  • While the approval of ‘scientific’ mining offers a legal and potentially safer avenue, it remains to be seen how effectively it will replace the dangerous and unregulated rat-hole mining, especially in regions with unique geological and socio-political contexts like Meghalaya.


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