The Death Hole (Rat Hole) mining of Meghalaya - Seeker's Thoughts

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Monday, 21 January 2019

The Death Hole (Rat Hole) mining of Meghalaya

Meghalaya is one of 29 states of India, and is a part of North- East region. In the beginning of January 2019 there were workers who were trapped inside 'rat hole' mines and in later January the new revelation came that these rat hole mines are used as death pits. Regretfully, criminals used these mines to hide the dead bodies- so these mines infamously are also called as death mines. 


What are rat hole mines?
"Rat hole" mining involves digging vertical pits into the side of hills and then burrowing horizontal tunnels to reach the lateral coal seams. The tunnels are not more than 5 feet in height.

Rat-hole mining was banned in 2014. But it's still widely practised across the state, especially in the East Jaintia Hills where the men were trapped.
These mines are privately owned and it is not clear how many exist.
India is the world's third largest coal-producing nation and coal provides 60% of the country's energy needs. But the industry is poorly regulated.



Issues 
The ban on rat-hole mining by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014 and restrictions on limestone extraction, were major poll issues during the February 2018 assembly elections in the state.
About 30 percent of the 374 candidates who contested the elections were either owners of mines or have stakes in the largely unregulated coal mining and transportation industry, according to a report in The Hindu.
It became a major issue with politicians, cutting across party lines, claiming that the ban has hit the local economy hard and the lives of poor people dependent on mining.
There are an estimated 5,000 rat hole mines in the state, mostly in East Jaintia Hills. Migrant labourers said there has been a 70 per cent economic slowdown since the ban. They wanted the ban to be lifted.


The reason for NGT Ban
The ban was ordered on complaints that Meghalaya’s preferred mode of mineral extraction, rathole mining, was polluting rivers and water sources. 
Water from rivers and streams in the mining area has become unfit for drinking and irrigation, and is toxic to plants and animals. A study by the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, says the Kopili river has turned acidic due to the discharge of acidic water from mines and the leaching of heavy metals. 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.

Meghalaya - The state
Meghalaya’s 576.48 million metric tonnes of coal reserve (of which 133.13 million metric tonnes is proven) is in thin seams located deep below with a large overburden.

The sustainable use
Sustainable extraction methods are likely to be technology-intensive and expensive. 
Mining has provided jobs to local people. Following the ban, there are demands for rehabilitation or alternative employment. It was a major issue in the assembly polls. The new state government led by the National People’s Party, backed by the BJP, challenged the ban in the Supreme Court in November that allowed the transportation of already extracted coal till 31 January. A citizens’ report filed in the apex court names several state legislators who have stakes in the largely unregulated coal mining and transportation industry.