the hazards of rat-hole mining — asphyxiation because of poor ventilation, collapse of mines due to lack of structural support, and flooding — to earn thrice or four times as much as working in farms or construction sites. Apart from issues of safety and health, unregulated mining led to land degradation, deforestation, and water with high concentrations of sulphates, iron, and toxic heavy metals, low dissolved oxygen, and high biochemical oxygen demand. At least two rivers, Lukha and Myntdu, became too acidic to sustain aquatic life.    In May 2023, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said the Coal Ministry approved mining leases for four of the 17 prospective licence applicants. This would lead to the commencement of ‘scientific’ mining ensuring minimal environmental impact through sustainable and legally compliant extraction procedures. Anti-mining activists, who are assaulted by miners off and on, said that ‘scientific’ would eventually be a fancy tag in a State where profit has driven coal mining.

An Introduction to Rat-hole Mining

On December 2018, the collapse of coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills, trapping at least 15 workers who were still missing and are feared dead, has thrown the spotlight on the “rat-hole mining.” Although banned, it remains the only procedure of coal mining in Meghalaya.

Few private players and some people who do invest in such mining are taking the help of Constitution to right their wrongs. They say, “Constitution’s 6th Schedule intends to protect the communities’ ownership over its land and autonomy and consent over its nature of use.” The ongoing coal mining in Meghalaya was a corruption of this Constitutional Provision. Private individuals with interests in earning monetary benefits from minerals under the land are engaged in coal mining. They are attempting to legitimize this act by claiming immunity through tribal autonomy over land ownership. In coming days, controversy over rat-hole mining in Meghalaya will increase and Central and State Government must work together in an amicable manner to stop such pathetic dehumanizing practice.

Why was Rat-Hole Mining Banned?
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned rat-hole mining in 2014 for being unscientific, but the practice continues to be rampant.
Several accidents have resulted in deaths of rat-hole miners in the Northeastern state.
In 2018, 15 men involved in illegal mining were trapped inside a flooded mine. Only two bodies could be recovered in the course of the rescue operation that lasted for more than two months.
Another such accident took place in 2021 when five miners were trapped in a flooded mine. Three bodies were found before rescue teams called off the operation after a month. Add to this the environmental pollution caused by this method.
Mining, however, is a key source of revenue for the state government. The Manipur government has challenged the NGT ban, arguing that there is no other feasible mining option for the region.
A panel appointed by Meghalaya High Court in 2022 found rat-hole mining continues unabated in Meghalaya.