Environmental Concerns Of Rat Hole Mining

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Environmental Concerns Of Rat Hole Mining

Environmental Concerns Of Rat Hole Mining


The practice of rat hole mining is prevalent in the state of Meghalaya. In India, coal reserves are distributed across three important locations. Two of them are concentrated in the central and eastern parts of India, whereas the other one is found in the northeast of India. The most predominant coal belt in India stretches across  Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal. The other belt stretches across Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra,  Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. The third coal bed can be found stretching across Meghalaya and Assam, apart from coal reserves, India also has lignite reserves, found in parts of Tamilnadu Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir amongst all these coal reserves, the reserves found in the central and eastern part of India is the most economically viable, because of this region. The coal seams are very thick and hence heavy machinery can be deployed at the mining technique known as opencast mining can be practiced. But as in the northeast of India, particularly in Meghalaya, that is Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia hills region industrial coal mining is not economically viable for a couple of reasons. One, the coal seams found in Meghalaya is very thin and as a result, heavy machinery cannot be deployed and opencast mining cannot be practiced and it is not possible to remove the rocks of the hilly terrain and set up pillars inside the caves, to prevent the mine from collapsing. Such industrial mining techniques are costlier, and they are not economically viable in the Meghalaya. Meghalaya is a Six Scheduled State as a result, most of the land where coal reserves are found is owned by indigenous communities, and hence the ownership of these reserves, less with individuals and private communities. So these two factors make industrial coal mining in Meghalaya economically unviable, and hence the local indigenous communities have developed their traditional way of mining coal, which is known as rat hole mining.  In this locally developed technique, very small and narrow tunnels are dug through the hillside and these tunnels are hardly three to four feet high, and four to five feet in diameter. These tunnels are just wide enough to fit one human being at a time, and through these narrow tunnels, workers, especially children crawl through the tunnels, and they extract the coal. These mines branch into several networks of horizontal channels and the lack of mechanical or physical support significantly increases the risk of collapse, or the flooding of these mines, especially during the rainy season. So, when such disasters happen. Several workers get trapped under these mines and hence, rat hole mining is considered to be a major occupational hazard and this technique of mining is extremely hazardous to the environment as well as a result, the National green tribunal had banned rat-hole mining in 2014. The NGT had considered rat hole mining to be unscientific and unsafe and it also took into account the severe environmental impact of rat-hole mining and decided to ban this type of mining in 2014. But despite this ban, the practice has continued because of poor enforcement by the Meghalaya government as a result, the risk for the environment and the workers continues to remain the same. Environmental experts and human rights activists have always criticized rat hole mining for its disastrous impact. Rathole mining is known to contribute to the leaching of toxic metals into the nearby water bodies lakes and rivers. Studies have shown that the water bodies, present around the areas where rat hole mining is practiced have reported a very high concentration of sulfates, iron, and several other toxic heavy metals, and they also report very low dissolved oxygen and high biological oxygen demand, along with a very high pH value, thereby indicating its degraded quality. So excessive water pollution caused by rat hole mining is a major risk to the aquatic life, and as well as to human beings. The Rocky material that is dumped on the roadside becomes a major source of air, water, and soil pollution and degrades the nearby environment. Then upon this, the movement of heavy vehicles and trucks, especially in unpaved areas that is off-road areas releases a lot of dust in the atmosphere, thereby causing significant air pollution and causing damage to the nearby ecology and environment. Then along with this, the risk of caving of these mines and flooding of mines increases the risk for the workers, especially for children, most of whom are victims of child trafficking. So considering the environmental risk and the risk posed to the safety of workers, the National green tribunal had banned rat-hole mining and this decision was upheld by the Supreme Court as well. Environmental activists and human rights activists have consistently taken a stand against rat hole mining. But despite his Meghalaya government has failed to enforce the ban. And it has also failed to come out with an effective policy to regulate rat hole mining.

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