The Supreme Court Monday directed that high-powered pumps of Kirloskar company be airlifted and installed immediately for de-watering of an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya where 15 people have been trapped for over two months.
The apex court also issued show cause notice to the owner of the mine saying it would consider granting compensation to the family members of the victim as prima facie responsibility and liability of the mishap is of the mine owner.
The illegal mine is located at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest and can be accessed after crossing three streams. It was flooded in December last year trapping 15 miners when water from the nearby Letein river gushed into it.
The apex court was hearing a petition which had sought urgent steps for rescuing the miners trapped in the rat-hole mine since December 13 last year.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer Monday said it is an accepted fact that illegal mining was going on there due to which several lives have been lost and asked the Meghalaya government to serve the show cause notice issued to mine owner Jrin Chullet alias Krip Chullet.
During the hearing, the bench observed that there was no point in having 100 horsepower capacity pumps stalled at the site for de-watering the mine as it was not going to bring the desired result due to the passage of time of over two months.
“Let us give it a quietus. Other proceedings related to illegal mines is pending. Two months have gone by. Nothing will be there at this point of time,” the bench told senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for petitioner Aditya N Prasad.
“It is not going to bring out anything now. The other issue can be looked into in the other pending proceedings,” the bench said. Grover said that on February 8, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had assured the court that high powered 100 horsepower pumps of Kirloskar will be airlifted and installed at the site for de-watering the mine but it was not done yet.
Mehta said that 11 crore litre of water was pumped out from the mine between February 8 and 16 but the water was getting replenished from the nearby river due to the topography there. He said remotely operated underwater vehicle (RoVs) have detected three bodies so far in the mine.
On January 28, the apex court was informed that body of a person, among the 15 miners trapped, was retrieved while another body was spotted by the Indian Navy.
Grover, however, told the court that high powered pump of Kirloskar was available and the authorities should install them at the site. “Let us make a last effort. Let us have those 100 horsepower pumps for de-watering the mine,” he said, adding Kirloskar was giving these pumps without charging anything.
Mehta, while terming the incident as a “human tragedy”, said this issue was discussed and the state government is of the view that even if these pumps were used, nothing can be done now.
Grover said that bodies have to be retrieved from the mine and the third body has been spotted recently. While referring to its February 8 order, the bench said, “We again direct that these pumps should be airlifted as early as possible and installed for de-watering the mine”.
The court noted Grover’s submissions that installation of these 100 horsepower pumps will be done as the last resort. The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on March 12.
On February 8, the top court had issued a notice to the owner of the coal mine saying he was responsible for the illegal mining due to which the mishap took place. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed “rat holes” as each just about fits one person.
Earlier, the Centre had told the court that it has to “believe in miracles” for the 15 miners to come out alive.