GUWAHATI: The fate of five miners, who got trapped inside a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya, is still not known as the search and rescue operation on Tuesday was affected by the rains.
The tragedy struck the victims after a dynamite blast that flooded the coal pit. The incident occurred on Sunday evening in coal-rich East Jaintia Hills that witnessed many such incidents in the past.
Teams of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the Fire Service are engaged in the search and rescue operation. Official sources said the services of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) would be requisitioned if there is no breakthrough in the operation by Wednesday.
East Jaintia Hills District Magistrate, E Kharmalki said some 35 personnel of the SDRF and the Fire Service were engaged in the operation.
“The problem is that the coal pit is at a depth of more than 500 feet and there is water. We have to make use of the crane which the miners used to go down. I have mobilized the machinery to make the crane operational,” Kharmalki said.
He added: “We are trying our best. After the personnel go down and assess the conditions that we will know if the water has to be pumped out. Some pumps have been already placed at the site.”
The state’s Home Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui said the previous owner of the coal mine had been detained but as he was found to be Covid positive, he could not be interrogated.
The National Green Tribunal had banned rat-hole coal mining in 2014 and Rymbui said some people were trying to resume mining in the state.
“We are trying to strengthen our police stations. There are thousands of coal mines from Garo Hills to Jaintia Hills and it is difficult to keep tabs on each and every one of them as they are located in remote areas. I will review the overall situation,” he added.
Quoting eye witnesses, East Jaintia Hills Superintendent of Police, Jagpal Singh Dhanoa said the mine’s “Sordar” Nizam Ali, who was absconding, had done nothing to rescue the trapped labourers. Instead, he threatened the survivors with dire consequences and chased them away from the mining site, the SP said.
An FIR was registered with the police under various Sections of the IPC, the MMDR Act and the Disaster Management Act.
Opposition Congress slammed the Conrad K Sangma government over the incident. Recalling that it had repeatedly denied illegal coal mining activities, party MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh said it was shameful that precious lives were lost.
“After the last such incident in January in which six people were killed, the government had denied illegal coal mining and maintained that the victims were excavating. What will the government say now? Will it say excavation was going on during the pandemic,” she asked.
Four of the trapped miners are from Assam while the fifth is from Tripura. High daily wages, which could be up to Rs 1,500, draw many labourers to the Meghalaya mines. In December 2018, at least 17 labourers, mostly from Assam, were killed at a coal mine in East Jaintia Hills.