Rescue operations at the collapsed coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, in which at least 15 miners are feared dead, were temporarily halted on Monday because the two pumps being used have proved ineffective in bringing the water level down, officials said.
The mine is located at Ksan in Saipung area, next to Lytein river, whose water is said to have gushed into the mine on December 13, trapping the workers. The mine is illegal because the technique used here is ‘rat-hole technique’, which was banned by the NGT in 2014. The main pit is said to be 320-350 feet and the water-level in it 70 feet. Nothing but three helmets of workers have been recovered in over 10 days of search operations by the NDRF and SRDF.
The NDRF has 70 personnel and the SDRF 22 at the spot.
Assistant Commandant of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Santosh Singh, temporarily posted in Saipung to lead the rescue operations, told The Indian Express over phone that there was no fresh pumping out of the water in the collapsed mine because the two 25 Horse Power pumps available with them were not proving effective. “Unless we get around ten 100 Horse Power pumps, there is no use pumping out the water. The water continues to seep in and the level remains the same,” Singh said. “That’s why we have temporarily suspended the operations. We will continue once the pumps arrive. We have conveyed our demand to the administration.”
NDRF commandant S K Sastri told The Indian Express, “The strong pumps we demanded have not come. We have no clue about the whereabouts of the men inside the mine. I cannot say anything more.”
Federick M Dopth, deputy commissioner of the district, told The Indian Express that he wrote to the state government seeking pumps three days ago. “I have been told they are examining the demand and steps are being taken to provide the pumps.”
Additional chief secretary P W Ingty, who is also incharge of the disaster management department, did not answer phone calls and text messages.
Sources in CM Conrad Sangma’s office in Shillong said the CM has spoken to MoS Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju requesting more manpower and better equipment, and the Centre has assured all help.
Meanwhile, relatives of the workers said they had accepted that the men would not return. In West Garo Hills district’s Magurmari village, from where five of the 15 men hail, Aziar Rahman, a relative of trapped Omar Ali and Shirapat Ali, said, “Leave alone rescuing anyone or finding dead bodies, the authorities have been unsuccessful in even reducing the water level. It shows that the government is not interested in this rescue operation. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact that our men will not return home alive.”