No trace of 13 people trapped in 'rat-hole' mine in Meghalaya, owner held

The depth of the coal mine, the tunnels therein and the presence of about 70 feet water underneath made the task of the divers difficult.

Published: 14th December 2018 08:22 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th December 2018 01:30 PM   |  A+A-

Rescuers work at the site of a coal mine that collapsed in Ksan, in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. | AP

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: There was no breakthrough in the operations carried out on Friday by deep divers of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to rescue 13 people who were trapped in a coal mine in East Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.

According to official sources, the NDRF divers from Guwahati made two attempts to rescue the trapped miners but did not achieve any success.

The depth of the coal mine, the tunnels therein and the presence of about 70 feet water underneath made the task of the divers difficult. They are likely to make further attempts on Saturday.

ALSO READ | 13 trapped in illegal coal mine in Meghalaya 

The police have arrested the coal mine owner, James Sukhlian, who is a local. The 13 people had descended around 350 ft into the coal mine, located at Lumthari village, at 6 am on Friday. There has been no trace of them since. They were busy in rat-hole coal mine near Lytein river, the sources said.

This is the second such incident in the state in six years. In 2012, at least 15 miners were trapped in an illegal rat-hole coal mine in South Garo Hills. The bodies were never recovered.

The state government is optimistic about the rescue of those trapped.

“The NDRF is working with others. We are trying our best and we hope we will be able to rescue them. I have been personally monitoring the rescue operations. But the conditions are not very easy,” Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said.

Asked as to how rat-hole mining was rampant in parts of the state when it was banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), he said, “It is not possible for us to watch the happenings (illegal mining) in every nook and corner of the state. What has happened is very sad. We will act against this illegal aspect. Once policies come up, it will be easier…It is important that people realize that lives are at risk. We have to come out with proper scientific mining methods and guidelines so that they can be followed to protect human lives in the future”.

However, social activists were up in arms against the state government for its failure to curb illegal coal mining.

“The state government cannot feign ignorance about illegal and murderous coal mining. The loss of lives is blood on the hands of the government and the coal mine owners. They not only have to own up responsibility but be held criminally liable for the gross human rights violation and loss of lives,” activist Angela Rongad said.

Activist Jaynie Sangma said fellow activist Agnes Kharshiing was attacked by some people in the same district last month, for she wanted to take stock of illegal coal mining.

“The place where the 13 people got trapped is not far off from where Agnes Kharshiing was attacked. There is a ban by the NGT in place and there is a government in the state. So, how is illegal coal mining going on?” she asked.

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