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Meghalaya's Rat-Hole Mining: Ban and Future Challenges



  Dec 01, 2023

Rat-Hole Mining in Meghalaya: An Overview



Rat-hole mining, a primitive and hazardous method of mining, was banned in Meghalaya due to its detrimental effects on both the environment and the miners. Understanding its implications and the ongoing challenges is essential for evaluating the future of coal mining in the region.

"What is Rat-Hole Mining?

Description: This method involves digging small tunnels, just 3-4 feet in height, where miners, often in a squatting position, extract coal with pickaxes. There are two types: side-cutting on hill slopes following visible coal seams and box-cutting involving digging pits and then horizontal tunnels.

Participants: Laborers, primarily from Assam, Nepal, and Bangladesh, engage in this work, attracted by higher wages despite the risks.

Reasons for the Ban by NGT:

1. Safety and Health Risks: Miners face asphyxiation, mine collapses, and flooding due to poor ventilation and lack of structural support.

2. Environmental Impact: Unregulated mining has led to land degradation, deforestation, and water pollution, severely affecting aquatic life.

3. Child Labor: Reports indicated the employment of about 70,000 children, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal, due to their small size.

The NGT Ban and Its Implications:

Background: Human rights activists and environmentalists highlighted the dangers of rat-hole mining, leading to the NGT ban in 2014.

Continued Illegal Mining: Despite the ban, illegal mining and coal transportation persist, as evident in the 2018 incident in East Jaintia Hills where 17 miners drowned.

Pressure for Legal Resumption: With coal reserves of 576.48 million tonnes in Meghalaya, there is significant local pressure to resume mining legally.

The Future of Mining in Meghalaya:

Economic Viability: Miners argue that thin coal seams in Meghalaya make rat-hole mining more economically feasible than open-cast mining.

Shift to 'Scientific' Mining: The State government plans to commence 'scientific' mining, ensuring sustainable and legally compliant extraction. However, concerns remain about whether this will truly address the environmental and safety issues.

Conclusion:

The ban on rat-hole mining in Meghalaya was a critical step in addressing the severe safety, health, and environmental issues associated with this practice. However, the continued illegal mining activities and the push for resuming mining under the guise of 'scientific' methods pose ongoing challenges. Balancing economic interests with environmental sustainability and human rights remains a complex issue for the state.


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