THE mining mafia, which undertakes illegal mining of coal, iron ore, sand, bauxite, chromite and sand, has tremendous reach across different Indian states. And it is only when a disaster strikes illegal mining, as happened last month in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya, that a lot of noise is generated and government leaders talk of enforcing the ban on illegal mining and cracking down on the mafia.
But within weeks, things just settle down and the mafia deepens its operations across India. Last month saw one of the worst disasters when 15 miners were trapped — and are believed to have died by now — in an illegal ‘rat-hole’ coal mine in Meghalaya.
The illegal operators of rat-hole mining dig holes and make narrow tunnels to extract coal. In Meghalaya, the lush green state nestling in the hills, coal mining is a notorious activity undertaken by many illegal miners.
At Jaintia Hills, where the disaster struck the workers, they were illegally operating mines and were trapped in a 370-foot deep mine. Rat-hole mining is a risky practice and involves young workers — in many cases, even children illegally deployed in the mines — who have to dig minor tunnels and extract coal from there.
The practice is popular in Meghalaya as it is extremely competitive compared to normal mining. And with growing demand for jobs, workers from Meghalaya and other nearby states — and even neighbouring countries — are deployed for the operations.
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