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Last Updated : Jan 17, 2019 03:40 PM IST | Source:

Meghalaya mining accident: What we know so far

The mines are illegal because of the technique used. The 'rat-hole' technique was banned by the NGT in 2014

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More than a month after 15 miners got trapped inside an illegal rat-hole mine in Meghalaya, Indian Navy divers managed to find a body of one of the miners.

"One body detected by Indian Navy divers using underwater ROV at a depth of approximately 160 feet and 210 feet inside a rat-hole mine," a Navy spokesperson said in a statement.

The body has been brought up to the mouth of the rat-hole mine and will be extracted out of it under the supervision of doctors, the officials said.

The district authorities, however, are tight-lipped on the development.

The rescue efforts, which involve the Navy and the Indian Air Force, apart from national and state disaster response teams, are still on.

About a fortnight ago, several people had complained that a "foul smell" was emitting from within the mines, indicating that the miners might have died.

On December 29, 2018, one of the survivors of the accident said that there was no way that the miners would come out alive.

"I was about 5 to 6 feet inside the mine pulling a cart full of coal. For some unknown reasons, I could feel a breeze inside the mine which was unusual. What followed was big sound of water gushing in. I barely made it to the opening of the pit," Sahib Ali, the survivor, said.

"There is no way the trapped men will be alive. How long can a person hold his breath underwater?" he added.

What happened?

On December 13, 2018, over two dozen miners hailing from different districts of Meghalaya and Assam got trapped inside an illegal mine in Ksan, East Jaintia Hills district after water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it.

Reports quoting villagers indicate that one of the diggers might have accidentally punctured the walls of the cave, letting the water rush in and trap the miners inside.

Why are the mines illegal?

The mines are illegal because of the technique used. The 'rat-hole' technique was banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014.

The technique involves digging of small tunnels which are just over three-four feet high, in order to extract coal. The technique was banned by the NGT on the grounds that it was unscientific and unsafe for the workers.

On December 14, 2018, a day after the accident, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said that the administration is "aware that illegal activities were going on."

"... appropriate action will be taken at the appropriate time against people who are involved in illegal mining," Sangma had said.

Coal mines

Why are rescue operations taking so long?

According to reports, the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Rescue Force (SDRF) personnel have been trying to reduce the water level inside the mine as they are only able to attempt a rescue when the water is under 40 feet. The water level inside the mine currently is 70 feet deep.

"We have not been able to reduce the water level inside the mine because the pit, through one of the rat-hole tunnels, is connected to the adjoining river. The river water is seeping into it, keeping the water level constant at 70 feet, although we are trying to pump it out," Santosh Singh, Assistant Commandant of NDRF told The Indian Express.

Moreover, incessant rains during the rescue efforts also stalled the operation for some time.

Initially, the biggest complaint, from the state and national disaster rescue teams had been the unavailability of the pumps required to tackle this sort of a rescue operation. The two 25 Horse Power pumps had proved ineffective and the NDRF has been demanding at least 100 Horse Power pumps.

Rescue operations were halted on December 24, 2018, due to the ineffectiveness of the pumps, the demand for which had been made by CM Sangma to Coal India.

By December 30, 2018, 10 pumps provided by Kirloskar Brothers had been installed on site. The pumps, however, faced a snag on January 1, further delaying the operation.

On January 13, expert teams from National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) reached the site to conduct an operation with remote-controlled underwater vehicles.

Apart from the disaster response teams already on the site, the Navy, Air Force and fire officials from Odisha have also been dispatched to the area.

What the Supreme Court has to say

The Supreme Court of India (SC) on January 3 expressed "dissatisfaction" with the Meghalaya government over its handling of the rescue operation. The apex court had also asked why the steps taken by the state government in rescuing the miners have remained unsuccessful.

On January 11, SC again pulled up the state government again. The court also said that miracles do happen and asked the government to keep searching. On January 16, the top court banned transportation of extracted coal until February 19, when it takes up the matter for hearing again.
First Published on Jan 17, 2019 03:24 pm
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