‘Our hands get the job done’: Rat-hole miner after Uttarkashi tunnel rescue
Rat-hole mining is a method of taking out coal by digging small pits, a practice banned in 2014 as a coal-extracting method for being unscientific
Until November 28 evening, people used to look down upon the jobs as rat-hole miners but they emerged as heroes after the successful rescue operation of 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district since November 12. All workers were rescued safely on Tuesday evening.
After several failed attempts to rescue the trapped workers and the failure of machines, a 12-member team of Delhi-based Rockwell Enterprises, a trenchless engineering services company that clears sewer and water lines, came in handy in the last phase of the Uttarkashi tunnel rescue operation.
Feroz Qureshi, a 34-year-old rat-hole miner, was one of the miners who were brought to Uttarakhand on Monday to remove the last 12 metres of debris.
“The society does not give much respect to our work. Top professionals, including engineers and supervisors, look at our work and labourers like us as inferior and less important. They should treat them as their brothers…If the labourer will not work, no work can be completed,” Qureshi, a resident of Kasganj of Uttar Pradesh, said.
Rat-hole mining is a method of taking out coal by digging small pits, a practice banned in 2014 as a coal-extracting method for being unscientific. However, this time, to rescue the 41 workers trapped in a tunnel Uttarkashi for the past 16 days, rat miners were summoned who after manual drilling reached out to the trapped workers and eventually led to their exit from the collapsed tunnel after sophisticated machines failed.
“Where machines do not work, our hands get the job done,” Qureshi said. He added, “We are all over the news. We are being treated like heroes. Hopefully, it brings a change in our society and our work should not be looked down upon.”
For the last 10 years, Qureshi has been doing the same work. “Our work is known as jack pushing or Chuha (rat) pushing. Our work is about laying underground sewer and water pipelines where machines can’t be used like railways, road crossings, and narrow lanes. We use hand-held tools like a hoe to dig and trolly to take to the other side dug-out soil,” he said explaining his work.
“We were called on November 24. For three days, we waited for the welders of the Trenchless Engineering Services (TESPL) to take out the parts of the machine so that we could start working,” Qureshi said.
“In the rescue operation, initially it took us 12 hours to push a 3-metre pipe because there were many metal obstacles in the debris. We had to first remove the metal obstacles…then we kept digging….until we could see faces of trapped workers,” he said.
“They were waiting for us…they knew we were coming their way. Once the mouth of the pipe was clear, they were in jubilation and started raising slogans Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” Qureshi said. “Looking them happy, we were happy too. Our mission was finally successful,” he added.
Further explaining the procedure, Qureshi said, “One person dug and handed over the dug-out soil in a metallic basin to the other behind him in the pipeline. The dug-out material is then put in a trolley which is connected to a rope and can be pulled each side.”
“Our team had given them a commitment to complete the task in 24 hours. We did what we said,” his brother Munna Qureshi said.
The massive 17-day rescue operation in the Silkyara tunnel successfully ended on Wednesday and all 41 workers walked out of the entrapment healthy, the rescuers were in the limelight receiving all the praises for their restless hard work and grit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his message saluted the spirit of all the people associated with the rescue operation and said everyone involved in the mission set an amazing example of humanity and teamwork.