‘Hero-like treatment will fade out soon’: Rat-hole miners on Uttarkashi tunnel rescue
The 12 miners feel their newfound fame would wean off rather soon, leaving behind the harsh reality of their lives — “we will remain poor”.
Less than a fortnight after making national headlines for their heroics, having emerged clinical in the otherwise painstaking rescue operation to evacuate 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand, the 12 “rat-hole miners” feel their newfound fame would wean off rather soon, leaving behind the harsh reality of their lives — “we will remain poor”.
For now, however, they are elated by the accolades pouring in from all corners — just a day ago, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav felicitated them and handed a cheque of ₹1 lakh each to these 12 men.
“It feels good that we are being called by influential people from across the country. Yesterday, Akhilesh ji gave each of us a cheque of ₹1 lakh in Lucknow. Now, we have been called by the team of Indian Idol in Mumbai,” Firoz Qureshi (34) says.
Qureshi was part of the rat-hole miners’ team roped in by authorities in a last-ditch attempt to clear the final 12 metres of the 57m-thick wall of debris that trapped the 41 workers in Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi district for 17 days.
“We are sure this hero treatment won’t last longer. It will continue for 15-20 more days and eventually people will forget us. It also won’t change the fact that they are poor and our life standards will continue to remain the same,” he adds.
Rat-hole mining refers to the practice of burrowing through mines manually using hand-held tools, a practice that is effective at navigating packed spaces but is illegal, given that it severely risks the lives of workers’, who wear no protective gear and are paid little.
“If anybody really wants to reward us for our work in the rescue operation, they should do their bit to change lives of people like us. We get a daily wage of ₹400-500. It is not enough for survival. We can’t even think about future of our families and children,” Qureshi says.
Following the success of the herculean rescue operation on November 28, Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had announced ₹50,000 to each of the rat-hole miners as a token of appreciation. But the miners allege that they are yet to receive the compensation or hear anything from state officials.
“We haven’t been communicated by the Uttarakhand government or any of their official whether we will get this compensation or not,” Qureshi alleges.
Vaqeel Hasan (36), the head of the rat-hole miners’ group, says, “We have not gotten anything from them. It is not surprising. It seems we have already been forgotten. They immediately gave cheques to the workers who were rescued but those who saved them by putting their life on the line have been forgotten.”
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Uttarakhand finance minister Prem Chand Aggarwal assured that the cash reward will be given to the rat-hole miners. “Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had announced that the rat miners will get ₹50,000 each for their role in the rescue operation. There is no question that they won’t get the cash incentive.”
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