Flooding of coal pit in Meghalaya highlights rat hole mining

Mining operations conducted by drilling a long narrow tunnel downwards from surface are known as rat hole mining. The recourse is to dig narrow holes with minimum effort. This form of mining can only be conducted effectively where the deposits occur close to the surface.

In India, this form of mining is prevalent in the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya.

The coal is extracted by primitive surface mining method called "rat hole" mining that entails clearing ground vegetation and digging pits ranging from five to 100 square meters to reach the coal seams.

Tunnels two feet in height are made into the seam sideways to extract coal. The miners crouch into these tunnels, equipped with only a flash light and a pick axe to chip away at coal.

Makeshift bamboo ladders take miners down into the pits to chip away through two feet high tunnels. Once the coal has been extracted these mines are abandoned.

Meghalaya has a total coal reserve of 640 million tonnes. The coal is high in sulphur content and is mostly of sub bituminous type.

The absence of state regulation and the lack of strict enforcement of labor laws has also encouraged local entrepreneurs to exploit the cheapest sources of labor - children An estimated 70,000 children under the age of 16 are believed to be working in the Jaintia Hills. Local NGO's surveys reveal that most of these children are trafficked from Bangladesh and Nepal and are kept as bonded labourers until they can pay for their freedom.