Rat-hole miners’ skills, and experience come in handy in the rescue of workers

Rat-hole miners’ skills, and experience come in handy in the rescue of workers


Although rat-hole mining is illegal, the miners’ skills and knowledge were used in the rescue mission to save the 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel, according to a National Disaster Management Authority member on Tuesday.

What is the Rat-Hole Mining?

  • Rat-hole mining is a method of extracting coal from narrow, horizontal seams that is especially common in the North Eastern states like Meghalaya. 
  • The phrase “rat hole” refers to narrow pits excavated into the ground that are usually only large enough for one person to descend and get coal from. 

What are the different types of Rat-Hole Mining?

  • Side-Cutting Procedure :
    • Narrow tunnels are dug on steep slopes 
    • Miners go inside till they come to a coal seam.
    • Coal seams in Meghalaya are extremely thin, generally measuring less than 2 meters.
  • Boxcutting
    • A rectangular opening of 10 to 100 sqm is created.
    • A 100 to 400-foot-deep vertical hole is dug.
    • To remove coal, rat-hole-sized tunnels are dug horizontally.

What are the environmental challenges faced due to Rat hole mining?

  • Deforestation:
      • Rat-hole mining frequently entails removing significant sections of forest to gain access to coal resources.
      • Deforestation can result in biodiversity loss, ecosystem disruption, and habitat degradation.
  • Degradation of Land:
      • The practice of building tiny tunnels and extracting coal can severely degrade the soil.
      • Soil and rock removal destabilizes the terrain, resulting in soil erosion and loss of fertility.
  • Pollution in the water:
      • Pollutants from coal and other materials can affect surrounding water sources as a result of mining activities.
      • Water pollution is exacerbated by acidic runoff from exposed minerals and heavy metals from coal production.
  • Mine Acid Drainage:
      • Acid mine drainage is a common issue in coal mining sites, including rat-hole mining.
      • When minerals are exposed to air and water during the mining process, acidic discharge can occur, affecting water quality.
  • Pollution of the atmosphere:
      • Air pollution is caused by the burning of coal and the production of dust particles during the mining process.
      • Particulate matter and contaminants can be released into the air as a result of roadside coal dumping and transportation activity.
  • Contamination of the Soil:
      • The disposal of mining waste, including coal dust and debris, can contaminate the land.
      • Pollutants in the soil can have an impact on vegetation and agricultural productivity in the surrounding areas.
  • Ecological Disturbance:
      • Mining operations have a negative impact on local ecosystems, damaging plant and animal populations.
      • Long-term ecological impacts of biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation are possible.
  • Accidents and Safety Risks:
    • In rat-hole mining, a lack of safety measures can lead to mishaps such as cave-ins and flooding.
    • Pollutants accidentally released during mining activities can increase environmental damage.

Why did the NGT Ban the Mining technique in India?

  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned rat-hole mining in 2014 due to safety issues and mortality, particularly during the rainy season.
  • In 2015, the prohibition was upheld.
  • The state government of Meghalaya filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, seeking a review of the NGT’s ruling.
  • Despite the ban, rat-hole mining continues due to economic concerns and a lack of acceptable alternatives for the local community.
  • Other mining methods are commercially unviable in Meghalaya due to the thin coal seams.


To summarize, rat-hole mining in Meghalaya has been chastised for its hazardous working conditions, environmental degradation, and negative effects on water quality and ecosystems. Although the introduction of a ban demonstrates an understanding of these issues, obstacles remain in implementing rules and finding alternative livelihoods for affected communities.