Malick Asghar Hashmi/New Delhi
Rat mining rescue team leader Vakeel Hasan recalls the moment when his teammates saw the workers inside the Silkyara tunnel on the evening of November 28. “It was like someone offering water to a person who is about to die of thirst.”
"When we saw them and they saw us; it was a very emotional moment. It was like a person getting water on a deserted land. We fulfilled the commitment that we made... All the workers came out of the tunnel without a scratch..." Hasan said.
Rat-hole miners emerged as the heroes of the 17-day rescue operation at the tunnel. They drilled with their hands the last stretch of the 18 meters and safely evacuated all workers on Tuesday.
"We installed a pipe till 18 meters... Munna and I are partners, and the other 10 are workers... actually, we had to dig for 15 meters but when we couldn't reach the workers, we dug more than three meters...In the pipe, we started the 'chuha boring' technique- the same way, a rat digs the soil. The way it pushes the soils behind it and then proceeds, this is the same technique," Hasan added.
Munna, the partner of Vakeel Hasan said that the trapped workers were hugely relieved and showered them with love when they saw them for the first time.
"When four of my workers went inside the tunnel where the workers were trapped, the labourers asked them to call me and when I reached there, they asked me what I wanted. As soon as they saw me, they showered all their love to me and asked whether I wanted their lives, money, or the position of God. I said that I only need your love," Munna said.
Vakeel Hasan says, “There were stones in the path of excavation. Small stones, big stones. There were pipes and even iron rods jetting out. We were protected by our guards. After clearing everything, we made a path through which the pipe was pushed and through which 41 labourers trapped in the tunnel for 16 days have been rescued safely and they are celebrating with their families.”
Police and the mining department call rat mining a coal theft technique. Ghulam Qadir, who retired from the post of Electrical and Mechanical Chief Engineer in Western Coalfield Limited, gave detailed information about this.
Inside an old coal mine
According to Ghulam Qadir, rat hole mining technology was once legal. Due to the hazards involved in it, it has been declared illegal and banned. However, it continues to be used by coal thieves.
Rat hole miners are active in the mines controlled by the BCL and CCL. They are able to extract coal from the closed mines. Thieves, he said dig wider to extract more coal.
They do not use any support in this method of mining and their excavation at times leads to the collapse of mines of BCL, and CCL resulting in deaths. Only a few days ago, some miners died in a BCL coal mine, he said.
Ghulam Qadir, an expert in underground and open-cast mining, said that about five decades ago underground mining was also not so safe. The miners entered through a 20-25-meter-wide path for further digging. The height of the ceiling was kept at about three meters.
Wooden poles were placed on the sides. Apart from this, a steel track is now laid in the middle. Coal was taken out from the mine with a motor on which a tub was placed. Since no support system was used for the 'roof', this method was also prone to accidents and deaths.
Ghulam Qadir said that for the last two decades, the width and height of the mine remained the same; the bat-like wooden planks are also intact but it has an additional iron 'C frame' for extra cover.
Even if coal falls from the top or side, it would not harm the miners. In the present scenario, underground mining is being reduced due to a lack of safety and low productivity. Now, modern methods of safety like, hydraulic jacks, props, roof stitching machines, etc. are deployed in the mines.
Ghulam Qadir said, here rat hole mining was used appropriately in the Silkyara tunnel. The miners made their way through a two-foot passage. A Pipe was also inserted along with it.