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Assam: Three Feared Dead Inside Collapsed 'Rat-Hole' Mine

Even though rat-hole mining was banned by the NGT in 2014, implementation of this dangerous method continues in Assam’s Leno-Margherita belt. 
Representative image of a 'rat hole' mine in Meghalaya. Photo: Flickr/Environmental Change and Security Program (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED).

New Delhi: At least three persons are feared dead inside a ‘rat-hole’ mine in Assam’s Tinsukia district after it caved in due to a landslide. 

‘Rat-hole’ mining is a process of digging that involves making narrow pathways for the extraction of coal. Even though rat-hole mining was banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014, implementation of this dangerous method continues in the northeastern state’s Leno-Margherita belt. 

According to news reports, the landslide and caving in occurred at midnight on May 25 at a mining site between Bargolai and Namdang in the Patkai hills, close to Arunachal Pradesh. 

“We received a report that three persons are missing. We are taking necessary action,” Tinsukia district magistrate Swapneel Paul told the New Indian Express on May 26.

The report said that two of the trapped persons belong to Meghalaya and the third to Nepal. The latter was identified as Dawa Sherpa. “Altogether, four miners were at the site when the mishap occurred. While three were extracting coal from a narrow tunnel via rat-hole mining method, another was transporting the extracted coal. The three in the tunnel got trapped in the landslide,” the report added. 

Though a rescue operation was launched at night, an official told the Times of India on May 26, “It is suspected that they died inside the coal mine, but we cannot say anything for certain until we get their bodies.” 

With the Assam government unable to stop illegal mining in these areas in spite of the NGT ban, it is a thriving illegal business in the area. Such mines in forest areas also affect local wildlife in addition to claiming lives of and injuring miners from time to time.

This February, a coal miner died under mysterious circumstances and his body was abandoned near a rat-hole mine. In June 2023, two persons died at an illegal rat-hole mine in Ledo. In September 2022, three coal miners were killed in one such illegal rat-hole mine, leading to the arrest of five persons by state police. 

In 2019, Congress leader and sitting MP from Nagaon, Pradyut Bordoloi, had sought action against rat-hole mining, claiming that 4,000 to 5,000 rat-hole coal mines had sprung up in the last three years, inside 11 reserved forests and wildlife sanctuaries. He had alleged that the coal mafia was aided and abetted by the Tinsukia district administration.

Bordoloi’s allegations had come soon after the Gauhati high court had asked two district magistrates of the state to file affidavits on illegal mining activities. 

In 2023, the high court too had banned illegal rat-hole mining and directed both the Union and the state governments to ensure it.   

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