A one-man judicial commission, looking into allegations of illegal mining in Assam’s Digboi forest division, has found that rat-hole mining, an unscientific and dangerous technique in which workers enter deep tunnels around three or four feet high to extract coal, is flourishing unchecked in the region.
The area examined by the one-man commission of Justice Brojendra Prasad Katakey overlapped with parts of numerous ecologically sensitive zones, including the Dehing Patkai elephant reserve, which contains within it the Dehing Patkai National Park. Though rat-hole mining has been banned in neighbouring Meghalaya since 2014, numerous instances of it have been recorded there.
While the method itself has not been specifically outlawed in Assam, Digboi resident Lakhya Jyoti Gogoi, a leader of the Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti, the students’ wing of the influential Krishak Mukti Sangam Samiti, pointed out, “All rat-hole mining in the region is essentially theft, carried out without any clearances or permissions.”
“Many people have died in the illegal rat-hole activities, which are already banned in Meghalaya,” said Gogoi. “Workers crawl for hours into the rat-holes without any safety measures. Usually one miner earns Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 per day.”