In an indication that more miners trapped in the Meghalaya mine may have died, the state government Monday told the Supreme Court that “there is a strong possibility of other bodies being behind” the body of one of the 15 missing miners that was spotted by the Navy team in one of the shafts on January 16.
The miners were trapped inside an illegal rat-hole mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills since December 13, 2018.
“Presumably, and as per latest reports, the bodies of the remaining miners are behind the body detected on 16.01.2019,” the state said in its status report filed before a bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer, even as the Centre told the court that rescue operations would not be abandoned.
The status report added that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) detected the body at a depth of 210 feet in the flooded mine but its identity could not be determined as it was lying face down and had started decomposing.
The body was brought up to 100 feet with the help of the ROV but by then several parts, including the limbs and skull, “got disengaged”. If pulled up further, there would have been total disintegration, rendering the same virtually impossible to retrieve, the report pointed out.
The medical team advised against moving the body any further, the state said, and added that family members of the missing miners were being consulted to decide the future course of action. The state told the court that pumps were used “consistently” but it did not result in any substantial decrease in the water levels.
“Further course of action shall be decided on the basis of consultation between the medical team, the Navy team and the family members of the miners,” it added. The state said continuous seepage of water from the nearby Lytein river into the mine was the main hindrance for rescue work and a team of hydrologists and geologists were trying to fix it.
“The continuous recharge in the shaft may be from some fracture zone or limestone caverns at similar level in the river bed. It is possible that the miners may have punctured the condoned aquifers.” Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured the court that it was not abandoning efforts to rescue the trapped miners. The court, which is hearing a PIL seeking its intervention, had sought status reports from the Centre and state on the status of the operations.
The petition by advocate Aditya N Prasad sought a directive to the Centre to put in place a standard operating procedure for rescue work in such eventualities. Senior advocate Anand Grover, representing the petitioner, alleged that rescue work was abandoned and members of NDRF, Navy and other organisations were waiting for the court’s nod to call it off.
CM: Next to impossible to retrieve body
Guwahati: Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma on Monday reiterated that retrieving a miner’s body, detected inside the disaster-struck coal mine in East Jaintia Hills, was “next to impossible” even as senior government officials said that rescue operations in the cave will continue as per the Supreme Court’s order.
“Even as we try to bring out the body, it is disintegrating. Therefore it is becoming a next to impossible task to bring out the body. Therefore, we had decided to suspend the operation of trying to take it out because it’s really not working out,” Sangma told reporters.
Sangma said the government will decide on the future course of action after taking inputs from various organisations, including the Navy and NDRF.