A major pump manufacturing company has volunteered to provide equipment to drain out water from the mine in Meghalaya, where 15 diggers have been trapped for nearly a fortnight, to facilitate resumption of the halted search and rescue operation in the rat-hole coal pit. Pumping of water out of the mine was suspended on Saturday last after there were no visible results of the water levels receding.
The district authorities have also written to the state government seeking high power pumps as the two 25 hp pumps were inadequate, said NDRF Assistant Commandant S K Singh, who is heading the force in the operation. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Thursday contradicted media reports which quoted it as saying the trapped minors were suspected dead on the basis of the “foul odour” the force’s divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine.
A statement from the NDRF battalion based at Guwahati, which is carrying out the rescue operation, said the statement of its Assistant Commandant Santosh Kumar Singh on “foul smell” had been “misinterpreted and he was misquoted as saying that foul odour could indicate that the miners were dead and the bodies are beginning to decompose.” It explained the foul smell could have been due to the stagnated water.
“The fact is that the pumping process has been halted for more than 48 hours. The foul smell detected by the divers may be due to stagnant water. The same has been misinterpreted and newspapers quoted it saying the odour could indicate the miners are dead and bodies are beginning to decompose,” the statement issued by Commandant of Guwahati-based NDRF Battalion S K Shastri said.
He said two teams of NDRF are engaged in the search and rescue operation. Meanwhile, sources said Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the national capital on Thursday over the coal mine disaster. The details of the meeting were not available.
Heavy pumps manufacturer Kirloskar Brothers Ltd has announced help in the search for the 15 miners who were trapped in the 370-foot-deep illegal coal mine. “We are deeply concerned about the trapped miners in Meghalaya and are ready to help in whichever way possible. We are in touch with the officials of the Government of Meghalaya to offer our assistance in this regard. We hope all miners are rescued safely,” Kirloskar Brothers Ltd said in a statement late Wednesday night.
A team from Kirloskar and Coal India will assess the situation at the site on their arrival anytime now. They will report back to their respective offices with all inputs required, a senior government official said. Senior Minister Lakmen Rymbui and Disaster Management Minister Kyrmen Shylla were scheduled to visit the site on Thursday. The visit comes after the Opposition Congress accused the ruling coalition and Sangma of being insensitive in the entire issue. Meghalaya is ruled by NPP-BJP coalition government.
Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday had attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the mine mishap. Congress party sources said a group of INC MLAs have scheduled their visit to the accident site at Lumthari village on Friday. Rebuffing the charge of inaction, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma told a television channel, “It’s not the time to play politics. There is no question of calling off the operation. The operation is going to go to a different level now.”
He said the Home Ministry is in touch and helping the state. he National Green Tribunal had put a blanket ban on unscientific and unsafe mining of coal in Meghalaya since 2014 based on a petition filed by an NGO, alleging a river in Assam had become acidic due to the unregulated mining of coal here. But, illegal practices continue unabated in the state, putting lives at risk, said locals.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor came out with two tweets on the subject on Thursday. “Have been speaking to Sanjay Kirloskar, chief of @KBLPumps, about helping in the crisis in Meghalaya. He has rushed a team to assess the actual needs: what kind of pumps would best work in local conditions. Meanwhile, his pumps used for the #KeralaFloods could be diverted if suitable (sic),” said one of his tweet.
The other message on the micro-blogging site read, “2 things are clear: (1) request has come unconscionably late. Govt seems to have been v.slow off the block. (2) We need better preparations & standby equipment for water-related disasters, whether floods or rains. The National Disaster Relief Force should have pumps at the ready”.