NEW DELHI: Reprimanding the Centre for not doing enough to rescue at least 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya since December 13, the Supreme Court, on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the state government so far.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to inform it by Friday the action which the Central government intends to take and said, “every minute counts.” The court said a prompt, immediate and effective operation is needed to rescue them as it is “a matter of life and death”.
“As the Union, you should do something now. Either you take the help of the Army, which has not been done yet. They (Army) are ready and they have volunteered also,” the bench said.
The rat-hole mine, atop a hillock fully covered with trees in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it.
During the hearing, the Mehta told the bench that several members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were working at the site and instead of the Army, the government has sent Navy personnel. “72 members of the NDRF are already there but still no result. Why can’t you take the help of the Army? He (petitioner) says that water pumps were sent to Thailand. Why cannot it (pumps) be used here also?” the bench asked Mehta.
Kirloskar Brothers Ltd had offered high-powered water pumps and technical support to the Thai government in June-July 2018 for the rescue of a football team trapped inside a cave system in Thailand.
The court pulled up the counsel appearing for Meghalaya when he said they have already taken steps. “We are not satisfied... What has happened in the last several days we do not know. No matter whether they are all dead, some alive, few dead, or all alive, they should have been taken out by now. We pray to God that they all are alive,” the bench said.
Thai rescue brought up
The Supreme Court bench asked the Centre why it had not sent in the Army to help, as was the case in Thailand last year. Twleve boys of a football team had got trapped inside a cave system in Chiar Rai province in June and were rescued by a multi-national rescue team of divers, police personnel, around 2,000 soldiers and with the involvement of 100 governments. The team got stuck on June 23 and was rescued over July 8 and 9. Only one officer died in the operation while all the boys were rescued safely.