Meghalaya miners trapped: Supreme Court to hear plea seeking urgent steps for rescue today

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New Delhi | Published: January 3, 2019 9:16:53 AM

On January 1, the joint operation was stalled due to a technical snag in the high-powered pumps, but the issue had been addressed.

Navy personnel conduct a rescue task at the site of a coal mine collapse at Ksan, in Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya (PTI)

The Supreme Court is set to hear a petition today seeking urgent steps to rescue the 15 miners trapped in an illegally run rat-hole coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya since December 13.

The petitioner, Aditya N. Prasad, has sought the court’s directions for arrangements to be made to airlift equipment offered by private players like Kirloskars and Tata Trust to pump out water from the mine. Prasad also sought a direction from the apex court to the central government and the concerned authorities to create a standard operating procedure for rescue operations in mines.

The court, admitting the petition, has placed it before a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul. Rat-hole mining remains rampant in various districts of the northeastern state despite a 2014 ban by the National Green Tribunal. In 2012, 15 miners lost their lives in a similar disaster. Their bodies couldn’t be found. Rescue operations at the site in Khloo Ryngksan village have been ongoing for nearly three weeks without any success.

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, for which workers enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnel is usually three-four feet high and is termed a rat-hole as each just about fits one person.

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On December 29, the National Disaster Relief Force rescue team was joined by a 20-member team of the Odisha Fire Service department equipped with high-powered pumps provided by Coal India to flush out water at a faster pace from the 370-feet deep mine in order to reach the bottom. To carry out the rescue operation, the water level needed to be around 70 feet.

According to a survivor of the accident, there was no way the trapped miners would come out alive. Family members of at least seven trapped miners had given up hope to rescue them alive. They only requested the government to retrieve the bodies for last rites.

On December 31, a team of Navy divers also joined the operation. The Indian Navy divers went down the shaft of the mine for the first time and searched for the miners for about two hours without success. In the second attempt, they could reach the bottom of the mine but couldn’t trace the trapped miners. Water is being pumped out from the adjacent shafts as well as the mines are inter-connected. On January 1, the joint operation was stalled due to a technical snag in the high-powered pumps, but the issue had been addressed.

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