Updated: January 26, 2019 7:15:29 pm
The Navy Saturday said they have detected a second unidentified body of a worker inside the illegal coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills (EJH) district which had collapsed on December 13, a day after the first body to be recovered from the mine was identified.
“Indian Navy diving team finds second body 280ft inside the rat-hole mine. First body was recovered yesterday,” a spokesperson of the Navy tweeted from the official account.
#MeghalayaMineTragedy #IndianNavy diving team finds second body 280ft inside the rat hole mine. First body was recovered yesterday @SpokespersonMoD @DefenceMinIndia @nsitharaman @PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/g0C5bG7gil
— SpokespersonNavy (@indiannavy) January 26, 2019
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Federick Dopth, deputy commissioner of the EJH district, too confirmed the development and said it was detected at around 3am in the morning. The status of the body and further plans of its retrieval are not known as of now.
At least 15 workers were trapped and feared dead inside the mine in Ksan area on December 13 — and rescue operations have been on since then. Illegal rat-hole (in which narrow tunnels, 3- to 4-feet high, are dug into mountains for workers to move through and extract coal) mining has continued to thrive in Meghalaya despite a ban imposed in 2014 by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
On January 17, the first dead body was detected inside the disaster-struck coal mine — at a depth of 160 feet and at a lateral distance of 210 feet into the rat-hole tunnel — with the help of footage from remote-controlled underwater vehicle operated by Indian Navy.
On January 24, the body was retrieved and on Friday relatives identified it as that of Amir Hussain, 30, hailing from Assam’s Chirang district with the help of two lockets he was wearing on his neck since the face was completely disfigured. Hussain’s maternal uncle Noor Kalam on Saturday told The Indian Express, “We were handed over the body after all formalities today early morning and we have set off for our village in Chirang district, around 400 kms away. The burial will take place later in the evening.”
The mine at Ksan stands “illegal” since coal mining in Meghalaya using the ‘rat-hole mining’ technique — which accounts for most mines in the state including the one in which the accident occurred — has been completely banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014, despite which, activists say, illegal mining thrives in Meghalaya.
In the status report submitted to the SC recently, the Meghalaya government said, that as a consequence of efforts to pull the body detected on January 17 out, “there are signs of decay, making the evacuation of the body difficult”.
“In the process of pulling the body, the skull, the left wrists and the leg from the knee level got disengaged. It is the considered opinion of the Naval team that if body is pulled further, there will be total disintegrating of different parts, rendering the same virtually impossible to retrieve,” the report said.
The status report also added that “presumably” the bodies of the at least 14 other miners are behind this disintegrating body detected on January 16.
Soon after the news of the accident at Ksan had broken, Chief minister Conrad Sangma had accepted that “illegal mining” was going on. In a consequent statement to the press, he had said that it was not possible for the administration and police to check all illegal mining owing to the remoteness of locations.
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