Ten days after a pipeline at Kopili Hydro Electric Plant in Assam’s Dima Hasao district burst, flooding vast stretches of the project, four employees of the plant are yet to be located, officials said on Wednesday.
The pipeline, carrying around 12,000 litre of water per second from a reservoir to the 275 MW hydel project, burst on October 7, leading to inundation in parts of the plant. Rescue operations faced further complications due to the hilly terrain at the plant site.
Dima Hasao SP Sreejith T told The Indian Express on Wednesday that the four missing employees are yet to be located. “It is expected to take a few more days,” he said.
NEEPCO general manager and head of Kopili Hydro Electric Project, Debotosh Bhattacharjee, said, “We are trying to open approaches to the underground sections where the employees are trapped. The sludge left after the waterlogging is causing obstacles in reaching the location.”
Top NEEPCO officials say illegal coal mining in Meghalaya is at the root of such accidents.
Vinod Kumar Singh, Chairman-cum-Managing Director of NEEPCO, said illegal rat-hole mining in neighbouring areas of Meghalaya turn the water acidic, leading to such accidents. “Since the holes are not plugged, the water comes in contact with sulphur deposits and forms what is equivalent to a dilute form of sulphuric acid. We have been trying our best to alert state governments regarding this. Since 2009, we must have spent around Rs 100 crore in measures aimed at mitigating this problem.”
Fingers pointed at rat-hole mining
In illegal rat-hole mining, narrow tunnels about three to four feet high are dug into mountains and workers move in and extract coal. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014, and retained the ban in 2015, on grounds of it being unscientific and unsafe for workers. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had said coal mining can take place in Meghalaya only if it complies with provisions of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960.
He said there was no negligence from his staff. “We are dealing with 6 lakh crore litres of water in the reservoir. Imagine scale of the accident.” According to preliminary estimates, loss to machinery and infrastructure could be about Rs 550 crore, he said.
Illegal coal mining in Meghalaya had hit the headlines when at least 15 workers got trapped and died inside a mine in East Jaintia Hills district on December 13 last year.