RAT HOLE MINING (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Env and Eco)

News-CRUX-10     28th November 2023        
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Context: Recently, six highly skilled 'rat-hole' miners from UP's Jhansi have teamed up with the Army on the mission to rescue 41 trapped workers from the depths of Uttarkashi's Silkyara tunnel.

Rat Hole Mining

  • About: Rat Hole Mining entails the excavation of extremely narrow tunnels, typically ranging from 3 to 4 feet in depth, where laborers—often children—enter to extract coal. 
  • Meghalaya is primarily involved in rat hole mining due to the challenging topography and the specific characteristics of coal found in this area.

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 upto 10 to 100 sq m.
  • Ban: In 2014, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a ban on it, citing concerns about its lack of scientific validity and its potential danger to workers. 
  • The state government of Meghalaya has contested this NGT ban in the Supreme Court.

Impact of Rat Hole Mining

  • Environmental Impact in Meghalaya: Rat-hole mining practices in Meghalaya, particularly in the Jaintia Hills district, have resulted in the acidity of numerous rivers, adversely affecting water sources.
  • Degraded Water Quality: The aftermath of rat-hole mining includes degraded water quality characterized by elevated levels of sulfates, iron, and toxic heavy metals, coupled with low dissolved oxygen (DO) and high biological oxygen demand (BOD).
  • Coal Piling and Pollution: Areas surrounding the mines are employed for coal stockpiling, emerging as a significant contributor to air, water, and soil pollution in the region.
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