News Karnataka
Friday, March 01 2024

Banned Rat-Hole Mining Rescues 41 in Uttarkashi Tunnel Crisis

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Uttarakhand : The 41 workers who became trapped in an Uttarakhand tunnel due to the failure of imported, high-tech machinery throughout the lengthy operation have been saved by a mining method that has been outlawed due to its dangerous practices.

Rat-hole mining to free the stranded laborers commenced yesterday following the failure of a 25-ton auger equipment during the final part of the difficult task. The laborers who have been imprisoned for 17 days are now only meters away from the diggers because to the rapid progress made by this manual drilling technique.

Rat-hole mining is a method of extracting coal by digging very small pits, not more than 4 feet wide. Once the miners reach the coal seam, tunnels are made sideways to extract the coal. The coal brought out is dumped nearby and later transported via highways. In rat-hole mining, workers enter the mines and use hand-held tools to dig. This is the most common method of mining in Meghalaya, where the coal seam is very thin and any other method risks being economically unviable. The small size of the tunnels make children the best fit for the hazardous job, and in a state that has limited options for livelihood, many line up for the risky job. Many children also pose as adults to get work in such mines.

Rat-hole mining was outlawed by the National Green Tribunal in 2014 due to its lack of scientific validity; yet, the technique is still widely used. In the Northeastern state, rat-hole miners have perished in a number of accidents. In 2018, a flooded mine captured fifteen men who were engaged in illicit mining. During the course of the approximately two-month-long rescue mission, just two bodies were found. Five miners became stuck in a flooded mine in 2021, which was another incident of this kind. After a month, rescue crews canceled the operation after finding three bodies. Add to this the pollution this method causes to the environment.

Mining, however, is a key source of revenue for the state government. The Manipur government has challenged the NGT ban, arguing that there is no other feasible mining option for the region. A panel appointed by Meghalaya High Court in 2022 found rat-hole mining continues unabated in Meghalaya.

Operation Uttarakhand

After an American auger machine was unable to cut through the rubble preventing the workers’ escape, the illegal practice has suddenly saved their lives. For this mission, two teams of professionals totalling twelve men have been flown in from Delhi. However, Neeraj Khairwal, the nodal official for the Uttarakhand government, explained that the guys brought in were professionals in the technique rather than rat-hole miners.

One of the professionals, Rajput Rai, told news agency PTI that one man drills, another gathers the debris, and a third sets it on a trolley to be removed.

The specialists have been at work inside the 800 mm pipe to remove the debris manually using hand-held tools. One of the specialists told news agency ANI yesterday, “A shovel and other specialist tools will be used. For oxygen, we will take a blower with us.”


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