Coal mine mihsap: Work on to rescue five miners out of Meghalaya’s rat hole

Express News Service
GUWAHATI: The fate of five miners, who got trapped inside a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya, is still not known as the search and rescue operation on Tuesday was affected by the rains. The miners were trapped after a dynamite blast flooded the pit on Sunday evening in the coal-rich East Jaintia Hills.

Teams of the State Disaster Response Force and the Fire Service were engaged in rescue operation, while NDRF would be roped in if there is no breakthrough by Wednesday. East Jaintia Hills District Magistrate, E Kharmalki said some 35 personnel of the SDRF and the Fire Service were engaged in the operation. 

“The problem is that the coal pit is more than 500-foot-deep and there is water. We have to make use of the crane which the miners used to go down,” Kharmalki said. State’s Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui said the previous owner of the coal mine had been detained but as he was found to be Covid positive, he could not be interrogated.

Quoting eye witnesses, East Jaintia Hills Superintendent of Police Jagpal Singh Dhanoa said the mine owner Nizam Ali, who was absconding, had done nothing to rescue the trapped. Instead, he threatened the survivors and chased them away. Opposition Congress slammed the government, recalling it had repeatedly denied illegal coal mining activities.

The death trap:

What is it?

It is a network of small tunnels with a narrow opening fit enough for small children or thin men to enter

Why is it dug?

As commercial mining the hilly Meghalaya is not viable, rat holes are dug to illegally extract coal

Why is commercial mining unviable?

First, the terrain is unsuitable. Secondly, coal in northeast is high in sulfur content, which reduces energy efficiency

What has the govt done?

While rat-hole mining has been criminalised in a majority of northeast states, it persists in Meghalaya owing to lack of jobs and the necessity to make a living. It was also banned by the NGT in 2014

Why is it common in Meghalaya?

As it involves miniscule investment and offers handsome returns to the prospector, such mines pockmark the East Jaintia hills

What are the related issues?

As coal extracted from rat holes is stored near waterbodies, the water turns acidic. Coal is a major source of air and water pollution

Past disasters:

December 2018: At least 15 workers trapped in a 320-350 foot-deep mine in the East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya after it was flooded by waters of the nearby Lytein river

January 2021: 6 miners killed after a mine caves in

Rs 100 crore: Fine slapped by the NGT on the Meghalaya government for failure to curb illegal coal mining in 2019

Rs 1,500: The highest wages the miners draw for risking their lives. 

Most of the miners come from Tripura or Assam