1. Search Continues for 15 miners trapped in Ksan Rat Hole Coal Mines
2. Justice B.P. Katoki committee appointed by the NGT reported rampant illegal mining as reason for such mining disaster which continues despite NGT ban
What is Rat Hole Mining?
1. Rat Hole Mining is mining procedure which involve digging of very small tunnel of only 3-4 feet high for extracting coal.
2. It is called rat hole because of small height of tunnel
3. It is of broadly two types: (a) Side-Cutting: involve digging tunnel in hill slopes through which workers move to find coal seam (b) Box-Cutting: involve digging pit until coal seam found followed by digging rat hole tunnel
Why Rat Hole Mining method is done in Meghalaya?
1. Meghalaya hilly geography necessitate rat hole mining because coal seam is very thin (less than 2m)
2. Other mining methods like open cast mining which works well when coal seam is thick, cannot be employed
3. Removal of rocks from hill terrain and constructing pillars in mines is very expensive method
Why was Rat Hole Mining is banned?
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014 and retained the ban in 2015 on grounds of it being unscientific and unsafe for workers.
1. Environmental concerns: includes acidic mines drains acidifying rivers (lunar, lakha and kopili rivers); soil infertility due to degradation of top layer soil in mining area; road side coal dumping and off road coal transportation damages environments
2. Lives concern: involves loss of lives either due to rat holes flooding or rat holes collapsing
3. Social concern: due to small size of tunnel, there is incidences of employing children as worker; no social security for migrants workers from nearby states
4. Cultural concern: rampant illegal mining destroying natural caves in jaintia hills
Why Rat Hole Mining still continuing?
1. Rat hole mining cheaper than other conventional mining methods and also hilly geography necessitate such mining method
2. Meghalaya Mines and Mineral Policy, 2012 does not address rat hole mining issue
3. The government of Meghalaya controls only 5% land rest either community or privately owned which undermines effective regulations
4. Misuse of 6th Schedule of Constitution which provides tribal communities right over -land and use of its resources- by illegal miners and local councils
5. Increasing agriculture indebtedness and lack of livelihood opportunities in concerned districts
6. Citizen's Reports cited shadow economy running illegal mining involving nexus between illegal miners, traders, politicians and administrators
Why Mining is important for Meghalaya?
1. Meghalaya is rich in mineral resources like coal, limestone (estimated coal reserves at 576mt) which provides direct and indirect livelihoods and act as base of local economy. For Eg. NGT ban costs state 600cr annual revenue
2. Taking into accounts such factors, NGT had allowed conditional transportation of extracted coal and the small and traditional system of mining by local people in their own land
What are way forwards to Illegal Mining issue?
1. Need of framing new mining policy, plans and guidelines which allows scientific mining along with stringent regulations and their enforcement as mandated by NGT
2. Effective implementation of 6th schedule provisions through regulation of land leasing and protection of "community" right over land resources
3. Diversifying livelihood opportunities in concerned districts through better implementation of schemes like MGNREGA, Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Program (PMEGP)
4. Rehabilitation of workers from impoverished communities including child labourer
5. Implementation of NGT order for state to deposit 100cr with the Central Pollution Control Board for environmental restoration
6. Stringent implementation of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act which prohibits operation of illegal mining under state accountability