Rat-hole miners’ talent, experience come in handy in rescue of 41 trapped workers at Silkyara

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three to four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal

November 28, 2023 10:30 pm | Updated November 29, 2023 07:01 am IST - New Delhi

Rat-hole miners stand before they begin manual drilling at the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 27, 2023.

Rat-hole miners stand before they begin manual drilling at the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district on November 27, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Rat-hole mining may be illegal but the talent and experience of rat-hole miners were used in the rescue operation to save the 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel, a National Disaster Management Authority member said on Tuesday.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt. Gen. (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain said that rat-hole miners did a phenomenal job by digging 10 metres in less than 24 hours.

"Rat-hole mining may be illegal, but rat miners' talent and experience which is being used, it is their capability which is being used," he said in a media briefing here.

The National Green Tribunal in 2014 imposed a ban on coal mining using the rat-hole mining technique in Meghalaya.

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three to four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes", as each just about fits one person.

At the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi, at least 12 experts have been called by Trenchless Engineering Services Pvt Ltd and Navayuga Engineers Pvt. Ltd. to deploy the rat-hole mining technique horizontally in the collapsed part of the main structure.

They have come from Delhi, Jhansi and other parts of the country.

NHAI member Vishal Chauhan explained that NGT has prohibited coal mining by that technique, going into tunnel kind of thing and getting coal out but this technique is still used in construction sites.

"This is a special situation, this is a life-saving situation. They are technicians helping us," he said.

Twelve rat-hole mining experts are involved in the horizontal excavation through the last 10 or 12-metre stretch of debris of the collapsed portion of the under-construction tunnel on Uttarakhand's Char Dham route.

Asked who hired rat-hole miners, Mr. Chauhan said, "Jab hum whole government ki baat karte hain, toh kharcha idhar se aaya udhar se aaya, ek hi baat hai (When we talk about whole government, it does not matter who is paying the bill),".

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