7 Days Later, Centre to Rescue 13 Miners Trapped in Meghalaya
Rescue operations for the 13 miners got stuck inside an illegal rat-hole coal mine in Meghalays’s East Jainta Hills district, are underway. 
Rescue operations for the 13 miners got stuck inside an illegal rat-hole coal mine in Meghalays’s East Jainta Hills district, are underway. (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

7 Days Later, Centre to Rescue 13 Miners Trapped in Meghalaya

Seven days since Thursday, 13 December – when 13 miners got stuck inside an illegal rat-hole coal mine in Meghalays’s East Jainta Hills district – the Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has finally said that the Centre will be sending professional divers and equipment to help rescue them, Hindustan Times reported.

The list of divers included Jaswant Singh Gill, who saved 65 miners from the flooded Mahabir mine in Rani Ganj area of West Bengal in 1989, Sangma confirmed to the newspaper.

However, as water from a nearby river started to gush into the 370-feet-deep pit, the miners are now feared dead, reported PTI.

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  • (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

  • (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

  • (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

  • (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

  • (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

One person was arrested for his alleged involvement in operating the mine, the police said on Saturday, 15 December. The accused was arrested from his home in Norman village in the same district on Friday night, they said.

“We have arrested Krip Chulet of Norman village. He is one of the accused persons involved in illegal mining at Ksan area of Lumthari village.” 
Sylvester Nongtynger, Superintendent of Police (SP) of East Jaintia Hills district to PTI

James Sukhlain, the prime accused and suspected to be the owner of the illegal coal mine is on the run, the police officer said.

After the incident came to light on Thursday morning, a pump was pressed into service around 4 pm and was being switched off every three hours to give it rest, officials told PTI on Friday.

Residents of Lumthari village told news agency IANS that five miners managed to escape as water gushed inside the 370-feet coal pit. However, according to news agency PTI, those five men could not be traced.

RESCUE OPERATIONS REMAIN UNSUCCESSFUL

A senior district official, who supervises the rescue operation, has told PTI that the authorities were unsuccessful in their efforts to pump out water from the mine over the last five days.

"There is no sign of dip in water level even after putting three pumps into service. We have not been able to trace any victim as yet," he said.

Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) consisting of over 60 personnel reached on Friday morning, while 12 personnel from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) were already at the site. They are waiting for the water level to subside to begin rescue efforts.

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  • Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) consisting of over 60 personnel reached on Friday morning. 
    Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) consisting of over 60 personnel reached on Friday morning. 
    (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)
  • Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) consisting of over 60 personnel reached on Friday morning, while 12 personnel from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) were already at the site.
    Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) consisting of over 60 personnel reached on Friday morning, while 12 personnel from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) were already at the site.
    (Photo courtesy: Meghalaya Police)

Over 5 lakh litres of water, reaching up to 70 feet, is estimated to be in the main shaft of the mine, according to an expert in water resources management.

“It seems water from nearby Ltein river is refilling the mine even as the pumps are in operation,” he added.

The survival of the trapped miners depends on the oxygen supply, water level and the temperature inside, a doctor of a reputed hospital in Shillong said.

“A person can survive without food for seven days depending on the reserves he has in his body. The oxygen supply inside the mine also determines the time period for which they could survive,” the doctor told PTI.

WHY IS THE MINE FLOODED?

Water from nearby Lytein river gushed inside the mine at Ksan village under the jurisdiction of Saipung police station on Thursday.

“The police reached at the figure 13 after talking to the local people, and as of now, the number is still 13. But it may change if we get confirmation about a fresh figure,” the SP said.

(Photo: IANS)
The miners went in by a 15-feet-by-15-feet vertical shaft which is around 370 feet deep. At the bottom of the mine, at least four to five horizontal holes are dug from which coal chips are taken out, local people said.

“The chances of survival of the miners are very bleak. The mine is way deeper than the nearby river. There are also around 20 shafts," an elder from the village told PTI, adding three of the trapped miners are from the village and the rest are non-tribals.

Terming the accident “unfortunate”, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said the NDRF, the SDRF and the state police are doing their best to save the lives of the miners.

THE RESCUE OPERATION

Rescuers are using the sonar system and underwater cameras to detect the 13 miners but due to poor visibility in the water, the trapped miners could not be located, officials said.

Sonar is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging and is a technique that uses sound propagation, usually underwater to navigate, communicate with or detect objects on or under the surface of the water.

The NDRF teams, which are involved in the rescue operation, along with the SDRF, have suggested to the district administration to call in Oil Natural Gas Corporation to deploy submersible water pumps to reduce the water level.

CM Seeks Centre’s Help

The Meghalaya government on Monday had sought the Union Home Ministry's help to rescue the 13 miners, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma told PTI.

"I have spoken to the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and requested him to send in more professional teams and the best equipment they have," Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma had told mediapersons at the sidelines of a programme on Monday.

Conrad said rescue teams are trying their "level best" but the situation was "very difficult" as no matter how many pumps they used the flow of water was so high they were unable to bring it down to a level where they would be able to rescue the trapped miners.

He had assured the government will engage "whoever it takes and will try its level best to save the lives of the people who are trapped inside".

NGT ORDER BANS MINING IN MEGHALAYA

The National Green Tribunal has banned unscientific and unsafe rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya in 2014.

Admitting that the illegal mining continues despite the NGT ban, the chief minister said, “Appropriate actions will be taken against people who are involved in illegal mining.”

(With inputs from IANS and PTI)

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