Mishap at Meghalaya coal mine leaves one dead, another hurt

For Prelims

About Rathole mining:

  • Rat-hole mining is a dangerous technique involving digging narrow vertical tunnels into the earth to extract coal.
  • It is done by digging deep vertical shafts with narrow horizontal tunnels of 3 to 4 feet diameter are dug and miners are sent down to extract coal till 100 to 150 metre and in some cases even more than that.
  • This process mostly involves children because of their small body frame.

For Mains

What are the concerns for rathole mining

  • Rathole mining is unscientific and unsafe for workers, hence, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014.
  • The Supreme court had directed the government to dispose of the previously-mined coal and ensure that there is no fresh mining.
  • However, the coal seam is extremely thin in Meghalaya so no other method would be economically viable.
  • Due to the unscientific mining water sources of many rivers, especially in Jaintia Hills district, have turned acidic.
  • Lack of proper transportation infrastructure results in roadside dumping of coal which becomes a major source of air, water and soil pollution.
  • The mines branch into networks of horizontal channels, which are at constant risk of caving in or flooding.

Why is the ban not implemented

  • Since the coal seam is extremely thin in Meghalaya, no other method would be economically viable. Removal of rocks from the hilly terrain and putting up pillars inside the mine to prevent collapse would be costlier.
  • Several politicians and officials are allegedly either owners of the mines or are involved in the illegal coal trade.