How Rat-Hole Mining, Outlawed, Saved 41 Trapped In Uttarkashi Tunnel

How Rat-Hole Mining, Outlawed, Saved 41 Trapped In Uttarkashi Tunnel
How Rat-Hole Mining, Outlawed, Saved 41 Trapped In Uttarkashi Tunnel

Due to the failure of advanced imported machinery during a prolonged operation, a dangerous mining technique that had been prohibited was employed to save 41 workers who were trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand. The use of rat-hole mining began after a 25-tonne auger machine broke down in the last phase of the rescue mission. However, manual drilling has proven to be effective and the workers are now only a few meters away from being rescued.

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What Is Rat-Hole Mining?

Rat-hole mining is a method of extracting coal from small seams by digging pits no wider than four feet. Once the coal seam is reached, miners dig sideways tunnels to extract the coal, which is either dumped nearby or transported via highways. This is the most commonly used mining method in Meghalaya due to the thin coal seams, as other methods are not economically viable. Unfortunately, due to limited livelihood options, many children are employed in these hazardous mines, as the small tunnel size makes it easier for them to work. Additionally, many children pose as adults to work in these mines.

Why Was Rat-Hole Mining Banned?

Although the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole mining in 2014, it is still widely practiced in the Northeastern state, resulting in numerous deaths of miners. In 2018, 15 men were trapped in a flooded mine due to illegal mining, and only two bodies were recovered after two months of rescue operations. Similarly, in 2021, five miners were trapped in a flooded mine, and the rescue operation was called off after three bodies were found. This method of mining also causes environmental pollution. Despite this, the state government considers mining to be a significant source of revenue. The Manipur government has challenged the ban, arguing that there are no other viable mining options in the region. A panel appointed by the Meghalaya High Court found that rat-hole mining is still being carried out in the state without any hindrance in 2022.

The Uttarakhand Operation

An American auger machine has been unsuccessful in cutting through the debris blocking their escape, so they have resorted to an outlawed practice. Two teams of specialists, totaling 12 men, were brought in to assist with the task. However, these men were not rat-hole miners but experts in the technique. The nodal officer of Uttarakhand, Neeraj Khairwal, confirmed this. The specialists are using hand-held tools to manually remove debris inside the 800 mm pipe. They will also be using a blower for oxygen and other specialist tools such as shovels. The drilling process is being done in shifts, and the group of professionals is capable of cutting through metal barriers according to rescue teams.

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