‘I removed last rock and saw them’: Rat-hole miner who rescued trapped workers
Munna Qureshi, who was the first one to reach the trapped workers, was among a dozen rat-hole miners brought to Silkyara on Monday to remove remaining 12 meters of debris.
Silkyara (Uttarkashi): Munna Qureshi, a rat-hole miner working in a Delhi company, was the first one to reach and greet the workers trapped in the collapased under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi at about 7.05pm on Tuesday. He was among a dozen rat-hole miners, employed with a trenchless engineering services company in Delhi to clear sewer and water lines, who were brought to Silkyara on Monday to remove the remaining 12 meters of debris.
“I removed the last rock and I saw them. Then, I went to the other side. They hugged me, cheered in applause and thanked me profusely,” Qureshi said, after coming out from the tunnel. The first trapped worker was taken in an ambulance to a local community health center at about 8pm.
He said that they had worked continuously for last 24 hours to remove debris laden with stones to reach the 41 trapped workers. “I can’t express my happiness. I have done this for my fellow workers. The respect they (trapped workers) have given us, I can’t forget my whole life,” he said.
Feroz, another rat-hole miner, who had manually dug the debris in the last two metres, came out of the tunnel in tears. “I hugged the trapped worker. And just cried,” he said.
Another rat-hole miner, who did not give his name, described the rescue as a very difficult operation because of lot of rocks and sediments and added that they could hear the voices of the trapped workers at about 1pm when they were around “ten metres” away from them. “We shouted back and told them that they would be rescued soon,” he added.
The rat-hole miners said that they started removing the debris at around 7pm on Monday and the entire operation was completed in less than 24 hours. “We worked non-stop for 24 hours. We are overwhelmed that finally we could take them out,” Feroz said.
Rat-hole mining is a primitive method of extracting coal deposits through narrow, horizontal passages, prevalent in Meghalaya. The term “rat hole” refers to the narrow pits dug into the ground, typically just large enough for one person to descend and extract coal. The name comes from its resemblance to rats burrowing through narrow holes.
Most of the rat-hole miners employed at the tunnel were from Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. According to locals in Bundelkhand, many of them had earlier worked in granite and stone mines in the region and hired were a Delhi based company. A person with the miners said they had previously worked in Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Explaining the operation, a rat-hole miner, Munna Bhai, told reporters at the tunnel site, “Our four teams were working in eight-hour shifts. At a given time, three workers were inside the pipe tunnel. Our job was to remove the debris as the pipe was being pushed through the debris. We kept digging for almost 24 hours,” he said.
The officials involved in the rescue operation said that the horizontal drilling through the last 10-12 metres of debris of the collapsed portion of the tunnel was entrusted to ta teamof 12 rat-hole miners. They began the drilling from inside the pipes, 800 and 900-mm in diameter, at 7pm on Monday and finally achieved the breakthrough on Tuesday evening at around 7.05pm.
Parsadi Lodhi, another rat-hole miner and resident of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, said the operation was not difficult, though tiring, as in the past they have worked inside 600 mm pipes also. “There was enough space inside the removed the debris,” said Lodhi, who has been doing this work for the past 10 years.
Another Jhansi resident and rat hole miner, Vipin Rajput said after the operation people will consider their work to be noble. “People used to think we are sewer cleaners. I hope they will see us with some respect now as we have rescued 41 trapped workers,” he said.
Chandran, a worker who had been part of the rescue operation, said he did not have words to express his happiness and satisfaction. “Many times we thought we may not succeed. Finally, we did. I am happy,” he told reporters after the workers were rescued outside the Silkyara tunnel.
A part of the 4.5-km-long tunnel being built between Silkyara and Barkot on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway — part of the Char Dham all-weather road project — caved in around 5.30am on November 12 following a landslide, trapping 41 workers from various parts of the country. The collapsed section is 270 metres from the mouth of the tunnel from the Silkyara side.