Three die in illegal rat-hole coalmine in Assam

Police in Tinsukia district found bodies of the labourers buried near an illegal rat-hole mine on the border with Arunachal Pradesh

September 20, 2022 01:49 pm | Updated 01:49 pm IST - GUWAHATI

A file photo of a rat-hole mine in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya.

A file photo of a rat-hole mine in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya. | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

: Suspected inhalation of toxic gas killed three labourers in an illegal rat-hole coal mine in eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district, police said Tuesday, September 20, 2022.

A rat-hole mine is a deep vertical shaft with several horizontal tunnels big enough to let a slightly-built person to crouch and work with a pickaxe.

Debojit Deuri, Tinsukia’s Superintendent of Police said the incident happened at night on September 18 in a remote place near Ledo where a Coal India Limited subsidiary conducts mining operations.

Also read: Ground Zero | Meghalaya’s rat hole traps

“A person identified as David Naga had brought 11 labourers from (central Assam’s) Morigaon and (western Assam’s) Goalpara districts to extract coal illegally from the rat-hole mine at night. Six of them we picked up said the three died because of inhaling gas inside the constricting mine,” he said.

The detained labourers, all migrant Muslims, said they would start working around 8 pm for a few hours in order not be seen taking out coal.

“Our team reached the place on Monday evening and found the bodies of the three labourers buried near the mine. We have sent the bodies for an autopsy to determine whether they died of inhaling a toxic gas or they were killed and buried,” Mr. Deuri said.

The police are interrogating the labourers for more information about the illegal mining operations and the people behind them. The police are also scouting for David, who is believed to be hiding deeper inside Arunachal Pradesh.

“Many illegal rat-hole coal mines have come up in Ledo and Margherita areas of Tinsukia district. Coal smugglers run the operation in a very organised manner with patronage from certain quarters,” a local police officer said.

Rat-hole coal mine mishaps have virtually been unheard of in Assam unlike in Meghalaya where at least 30 people have died in mishaps since December 18. The either drowned due to sudden submergence of the mines or were buried after the mines collapsed on them.

The National Green Tribunal had banned rat-hole coal mining in April 2014.

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