On December 13, 15 miners were trapped in an illegal rat-hole mine in the East Jaintia Hills.

SC seeks status report from Centre Meghalaya govt on miners trapped since 23 days
news Rescue Friday, January 04, 2019 - 19:01

Twenty-three days after 15 miners were trapped in an illegal rat-hole mine in the East Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, authorities are still in the dark and are unsure about whether those trapped are alive or dead. On Friday, the apex court directed the Centre and the Meghalaya government to submit a status report by January 7. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that there was no blueprint of the mine, as it is illegal. “It is a rat-hole mine and no one knows which tunnel goes where. It is spread over five square kilometer area. Water is murky in the mine,” he said.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court rapped the Meghalaya government and said that "prompt, immediate and effective steps" are required to augment the operations. Observing that adequate steps have not been taken and there was a lack of coordination, the bench of Justice A K Sikri and Justice S Abdul Nazeer said that it is a situation of life and death of 15 miners trapped in the flooded mines. "We are not satisfied with the rescue operations. No matter whether they are all dead or some alive, they should have been taken out. We pray to god they are alive," said Justice Sikri.

The Solicitor General also informed the court that all agencies involved were working in tandem.

The State of Meghalaya told the apex court that 86 people have been working on rescue since December 14, according to NDTV. According to Shillong Times, there has been no headway in reducing the level of water up until now.

On December 13, 2018, the miners were sent into the Ksan mine, near the Lytein river. The mine then flooded, trapping the miners inside. The NGT had ordered an interim ban on "rat-hole" coal mining in Meghalaya since April 17, 2014, after the All Dimasa Students' Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee filed an application before the National Green Tribunal alleging that the water of the Kopili river was turning acidic due to coal mining in Jaintia Hills. Narrow holes which usually not more than four feet in diameter are dug, from where coal is taken out.

“We would crawl up to 30 feet (about nine metres) inside in a crevice that's just about two feet high, and slide on our backs to chip out the coal with a pickaxe,” a former miner told Al Jazeera.

The Ksan mine flooded — five escaped, and 15 were trapped in the 370-feet deep mine.

While the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) initially started the rescue operation with limited manpower and machines, Coal India Limited (CIL), the Indian Navy and the Odisha fire service joined the rescue operation much later -- on December 27.

The leader of Opposition in the Meghalaya Assembly, Mukul Sangma lambasted the National People's Party (NPP)-led government on Thursday.

He said illegal mining has been going on East Jaintia Hills, “exposing the NPP-led government's lies." He said it appeared the government led by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma was facilitating and encouraging illegal mining.

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