Shillong: Four Miners from Assam and one from Tripura were feared to be trapped after a dynamite blast led to the flooding of a coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, a senior police officer said.
Silchar superintendent of Police in Assam had sent information about the possible trapping of six miners from Assam in the mine accident on Sunday.
“The mine has been identified at Sutnga interior, under Umpleng Anti-Dacoity camp and search operations are on,” Meghalaya Police posted on Twitter.
Hazardous rat-hole coal mining is not permitted in Meghalaya after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014.
“The district police were able to identify the probable location of the spot at around 6am on May 31.
The delay in identification of the probable site was due to inclement weather, poor night light condition, and non-availability of any eye-witness account,” the East Jaintia Hills district SP Jagpal Dhanoa said in a statement.
Higher authorities have been apprised of the matter and a search and rescue operation has been launched. While the operation was on under the supervision of IGP (law and order), six persons gave an account of the events that happened at 5 pm on Sunday, the SP said.
As per the eye-witness(es)’ account, due to the sudden explosion of dynamite, five persons got trapped in the sudden rush of water into the mine, Dhanoa said. The mine was inundated within minutes, they said.
One person has been detained for questioning, the SP said. Since the man has tested COVID-19 positive, he has been kept at an isolation centre at Khliehriat, he added.
Of the five persons who went missing after the accident, three have been identified. They are Abdul Kari and Abdul Kalam from Assam and Shyamcharan Debbarma from Tripura, the statement said. The two unidentified miners are from Silchar in Assam.
“The main culprit as per eye-witnesses is ‘Sordar’ (manager) of the mine who did nothing to rescue the trapped labourers and chased the survivors away. Investigation is on and no stone is being left unturned to arrest him,” the statement said.
Based on the account of the survivors, an FIR was registered at Khliehriat (district headquarters) police station, the SP said. Meanwhile, state disaster management minister and local MLA Shylla said he was not sure if illegal mining was going on.
Disaster management teams of the police and fire departments, besides service personnel of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), have been sent to the area, the minister said.
“Since the coal mine identified by the Silchar SP is flooded, we have taken all required measures to ensure that the miners are alive,” Shylla said.
The NGT ban on mining in Meghalaya came after a petition by Assam’s All Dimasa Students Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee had complained that due to rat-hole mining in the Jaintia Hills, the water in the Kopili river had turned acidic.
In the rat-hole mining process, a deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal line of the coal seams.
At least 15 miners were trapped in a coal mine in the Ksan area of East Jaintia Hills on December 13, 2018. While five of them managed to escape, rescue efforts for the remaining 10 had continued till March 2, 2019.
In January, six labourers had died after a crane collapsed into the pit of a coal mine in the same district.