New Delhi: The Supreme Court is set to hear on Thursday a petition seeking urgent steps to rescue the 15 miners trapped in an illegally run rat-hole coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya since December 13.
The petition, filed by Delhi-based lawyer Aditya N. Prasad said arrangements should be made to airlift equipment offered by private players like Kirloskars and Tata Trust to pump out water from the mine. Prasad also sought a direction from the apex court to the Central government and the concerned authorities to create a standard operating procedure for rescue operations in mines.
The court, admitting the petition, has placed it before a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul.
Rat-hole mining remains rampant in various districts of the northeastern state despite a 2014 ban by the National Green Tribunal. In 2012, 15 miners lost their lives in such a disaster. Their bodies couldn’t be found.
Rescue operations at the site in Khloo Ryngksan village have been ongoing for nearly three weeks without any success. According to R. Susngi, the PRO of the East Jaintia Hills District Administration, “The fire service personnel from Odisha resumed pumping water from the adjacent shafts around 10:30 a.m.” He further said on the morning of January 2: “The diving team of the Indian Navy and the NDRF personnel will carry out one more round of the operation drill in the afternoon to check the water level of the main shaft.”
On December 29, the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) rescue team was joined by a 20-member team of the Odisha Fire Service department equipped with high-powered pumps provided by Coal India to flush out water at a faster pace from the 370-feet deep mine in order to reach the bottom. To carry out the rescue operation, the water level needed to be around 70 feet.
Three days ago, a team of Navy divers also joined the operation. On December 31, the Indian Navy divers went down the shaft of the mine for the first time and searched for the miners for about two hours without success. In the second attempt, they could reach the bottom of the mine but couldn’t trace the trapped miners. Water is being pumped out from the adjacent shafts as well as the mines are inter-connected.
On January 1, the joint operation was stalled due to a technical snag in the high-powered pumps. Susngi said the issued had been addressed.
Though initial media reports said 13 miners were trapped in the rat-hole mine, The Wire – quoting a family member of a trapped miner – reported on December 15 that the number could be higher.