Exactly a month after the collapse and flooding of an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, efforts to rescue the 15 workers trapped inside continue amid apprehensions that chances of their survival are very slim.
Five new teams of experts, including those from National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee and a team from Chennai to operate remote-operated underwater vehicles, have reached the spot to assist in the rescue operation. The NDRF is currently being assisted by the Navy, Odisha Fire Services and Coal India Limited in the rescue work.
Sudhir Kumar, a scientist with National Institute of Hydrology, said, “We reached the spot today and got the basic understanding and hope to start work from tomorrow.” Federick Dopth, deputy commissioner of East Jaintia Hills, said, “The expert teams have placed their logistics requirement before the district administration. They will start their survey and operation tomorrow.”
The mine is located at Ksan in Saipung area and stands next to the Lytein river. It is believed that the river’s water gushed into the mine either directly or through one of the inter-connected ‘rat-hole’ tunnels of an adjacent mine.
Sources said the National Geophysical Research Institute team would use a ground-penetrating radar to find the horizontal shafts — the ‘rat-hole’ sized tunnels — and map the mine while the hydrologists would use topographical maps to figure out the source of water seeping into the mine.
R Susngi, an official spokesperson of the rescue operation on behalf of the district administration, said the operation was on in full swing and on Sunday, pumps provided by Kirloskar, Coal India Limited and Odisha Fire Services were actively pumping out water from the accident-struck mine and the connected mines.
Relatives of the mine workers, however, say they have no hopes of the men returning home alive. On Friday, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A K Sikri asked the Centre and Meghalaya government to continue the rescue efforts, saying, “whether they are dead or alive, we don’t know, But miracles can happen”. The observation came in a PIL seeking the apex court’s intervention in the matter.
Despite the National Green Tribunal banning the ‘rat-hole’ mining technique in 2014, this method is followed in most mines in Meghalaya, including the one struck by mishap. Soon after news of the mishap broke, Chief minister Conrad Sangma had accepted that “illegal mining” was on in the state.
Later, he told reporters that it was not possible for the administration to check illegal mining at all mines owing to their remote locations.
Shortly before the mishap, activist Agnes Kharshiing, who has been protesting illegal mining in Meghalaya despite the NGT order, had been attacked by a mob while they were trying to locate an illegal mine.