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Fire in Nagaland’s ‘rat-hole’ coal mine kills 6 in India

Six workers were killed and four others seriously injured after a fire broke out in a rat-hole coal mine in Nagaland’s Wokha district in the afternoon of January 25. The district officials did not provide details of the mishap but local MLA Achumbemo Kikon said the fire incident was reported from a rat-hole coal mine between 12:30 and 1 p.m. He represents the Naga People’s Front. The coal mine is at Risayan, an interior village in the Bhandari Assembly constituency and all the workers were from Assam, mostly from the Sonitpur district.

“The six coal miners were charred to death and the four injured are in a serious condition. This is not the first coal mine accident in my constituency and it will not be the last if the government does not take stern steps for scientific mining,” Mr Kikon told a local TV channel.

He said illegal rat-hole mining has been going on in the area rampantly and he had raised concerns with the Nagaland government, especially with the Geology and Mining Department toward stopping “illegal mining”. He has also been trying to create awareness about safer and scientific mining among the people, he added.

“The State government must take pre-emptive steps so that proper guidelines are followed and coal extracted scientifically, causing minimum damage to the environment. Otherwise, the system will collapse,” he said.

The district administration has ordered a probe into the incident. A local police official said the accident could have been avoided had the miners and mine owners followed safety protocols. It is said that a rock breaker triggered the fire in the coal mine. The local administration has ordered a probe into the incident.

Rat-hole mining entails a tunnel big enough for a mid-sized adult to crawl through, squat, and extract coal with a pickaxe. Associated more with Meghalaya, such mining was banned by the National Green Tribunal in April 2014.