Rat Hole Mining

Rat Hole Mining


The recent rescue of 41 workers from the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand shed light on the usage of rat-hole mining, a method once prevalent in Meghalaya but later banned due to its hazardous nature. This mining technique, involving cramped tunnels and associated risks, was employed as a last resort to save lives. The irony lies in the fact that individuals from Assam, previously affected by rat-hole mining tragedies, were now rescued using the same method, prompting a revisit of the ban and raising concerns about the safety of such practices.


GS – 2, GS – 3 (Government Policies & Interventions, Infrastructure)


Rat-Hole Mining, Silkyara-Barkot Tunnel, National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Historical Context of Rat-Hole Mining
  • Safety and Environmental Concerns
  • Post-Ban Developments and Controversies
  • Balancing Economic and Environmental Concerns

Historical Context of Rat-Hole Mining:

  • Rat hole mining, involves extracting coal from narrow, horizontal seams. The term “rat hole” describes the small pits dug into the ground, allowing a single person to descend and extract coal. Miners use ropes or bamboo ladders to reach the coal seams, employing basic tools like pickaxes, shovels, and baskets for manual extraction
  • Rat-hole mining, once was widely practiced in Meghalaya.
  • The ban on this method in 2014 was a response to safety hazards, environmental degradation, and child labor concerns. The Silkyara tunnel rescue brought back memories of past tragedies associated with this crude mining technique, sparking debates on its efficacy and safety.

Safety and Environmental Concerns:

  • The ban on rat-hole mining stemmed from alarming safety issues, including asphyxiation, mine collapses, and flooding. The ban was not only a response to the immediate threats to miners but also addressed broader environmental degradation, such as deforestation, water contamination, and land erosion.
  • The NGT’s observation on the flooding during the rainy season causing fatalities underscored the urgency of putting an end to unregulated mining practices.
  • Workers from Assam, Nepal, and Bangladesh were often drawn to rat-hole mining due to its higher wages compared to other labor-intensive jobs. Tragic incidents in Meghalaya, as well as the recent Silkyara tunnel rescue, bring attention to the vulnerability of these laborers and the ethical concerns surrounding their employment in hazardous conditions.

Post-Ban Developments and Controversies:

  • The resumption of mining in Meghalaya has been a contentious issue, with economic considerations pushing for a reevaluation of the ban.
  • The Chief Minister’s announcement of mining leases approved by the Coal Ministry indicates a potential shift towards ‘scientific’ mining methods. However, skepticism prevails, as anti-mining activists argue that profit motives may compromise the commitment to environmentally sustainable and legally compliant extraction practices.

Balancing Economic and Environmental Concerns:

  • The economic viability of rat-hole mining, driven by thin coal seams in Meghalaya, adds complexity to the ongoing discourse.
  • The challenge lies in striking a balance between economic development and environmental preservation.
  • The approval of mining leases raises questions about the adequacy of measures to ensure the well-being of workers and prevent a recurrence of past tragedies.

Way Forward:

  • The Silkyara tunnel rescue serves as a poignant reminder of the dangers associated with rat-hole mining and reignites discussions on its ban.
  • A nuanced approach is needed, considering the economic needs of the region and the imperative to uphold safety and environmental standards. The potential resumption of mining in Meghalaya should involve robust mechanisms for monitoring and compliance, ensuring that ‘scientific’ mining does not become a mere euphemism for profit-driven practices.
  • Ultimately, striking a balance between economic interests and environmental responsibility is essential for the sustainable development of mining activities in the region.