New Delhi: The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court that they were facing difficulties in the operation to rescue 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya since December 13 as there was no blueprint of the 355-feet well.
The government told the apex court that the illegal mine was located near a river and seepage of water was hindering the rescue operation.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, informed a bench of justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer about the steps taken for a swift rescue operation.
The apex court called for action against the mine owners. “Take action against the mine owners. Why should the workers suffer?” the bench asked.
The bench directed the Centre and other authorities to file a status report on the steps taken and progress made in the rescue operation on January 7.
The apex court on Thursday had expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Meghalaya government to rescue 15 miners trapped in the illegal coal mine and had said “prompt, immediate and effective” operation was needed to rescue them as it was a matter of life and death.
It had asked the solicitor general to apprise it by Friday the steps which the government intends to take in the matter.
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, trapping 15 miners.
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed “rat holes” as each just about fits one person.
The solicitor general had 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 there as the mine was submerged in water.
“72 members of NDRF are already there but still no result,” the bench had observed, adding, “Why cannot you take help of the army? He (petitioner) says that water pumps were sent to Thailand. Why cannot it (pumps) be used here also?”.
The petitioner, Aditya N. Prasad, has said in his plea that Kirloskar Brothers Ltd (KBL) had offered high-powered water pumps and given technical support to the Royal Thai government in June-July 2018 for the operation to rescue a football team trapped inside a cave system in Thailand.
KBL had then offered to provide four specialised high capacity Autoprime de-watering pumps, which were kept ready at Kirloskarvadi plant in Maharashtra to be airlifted to Thailand.
Mehta had maintained that the petition seeking urgent steps for rescue of these 15 persons was not adversarial.
The counsel appearing for the state had said adequate steps have been taken and besides 72 NDRF personnel, members of state disaster response force, the Navy, fire department and Coal India Ltd were also involved in the rescue operations.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for petitioner Aditya N. Prasad, told the bench that an adjoining mine was connected with the river and the authorities were using only 25 horsepower pumps to flush out the water.
The plea has also sought a direction to the Centre and other authorities concerned to prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) for rescue operations in “mines and other similar conditions”.
It has sought directions to the Centre and the state to utilise the services of the technical wing of the Indian Armed Forces – the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force – in the operation immediately to rescue the 15 miners.
Family members of at least seven trapped miners had already given up hope to rescue them alive and requested the government to retrieve the bodies for last rites.
(With PTI inputs)