Navy, NDRF operations on as 5 miners trapped in Meghalaya mine

An Indian Navy team joined the non-stop rescue operations for five miners trapped in a coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya for two weeks, said top officials on Monday.

Ibashisha Mawlong, the Executive Director of the State Disaster Management Authority, said uninterrupted rescue operations involving the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are ongoing since the five workers got trapped inside the coal mine on May 31.

“NDRF and SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) personnel along with local people are continuing their efforts to rescue the miners. Various equipment, including water pumps, are also being used for the purpose.

“A 13-member Indian Navy team also joined the rescue operation on Sunday with remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and other equipment,” Mawlong told IANS.

Mawlong, who is also Joint Secretary in the Revenue and Disaster Management Department of Meghalaya, said senior officials, including the Deputy Commissioner of the East Jaintia Hills district are supervising the operations.

According to the fire service officials, the vertical depth of water inside the pit is nearly 152 feet. Other rescuers said the depth of the rat hole mine would be more than 500 feet.

Meghalaya Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui, Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Kyrmen Shylla along with senior officials visited the accident site for inspection.

Jagpal Singh Dhanoa, Superintendent of Police, East Jaintia Hills, earlier said due to the sudden explosion of dynamite (used to split coal pit), these workers got trapped in the sudden rush of water inside the mine and within no time the mine at Umpleng Elaka Sutnga was inundated.

Of the five miners, four are from Assam while one is from Tripura. Six co-workers of the trapped miners could save themselves as they were on the outer side of the mine at the time of the mishap and they have returned to their homes in Assam.

The police arrested the owner of the coal mine, Shining Langstang, and charged him with violation of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order banning unscientific mining and transportation of coal. The ‘Sordar’ (mine manager and head of the workers) is on the run and a lookout notice has been issued since he had brought the workers from Assam and Tripura to work in the illegal mine.

At least six people, who hailed from Karimganj district in southern Assam, were killed when they were working inside a coal mine in East Jaintia Hills on January 21 this year.

The latest incident on May 31 is a grim reminder of the December 2018 illegal coal mining tragedy in the same district when 15 migrant miners from Assam died inside in an abandoned coal mine. The 15 miners had been stuck in the coal mine at a depth of nearly 370 feet after a tunnel was flooded with water from the nearby Lytein river.

Even the bodies of the miners could not be retrieved after many days of rescue operations. In April 2014, the NGT had banned the indiscriminate and hazardous rat hole coal mining in Meghalaya. But mining continued illegally with the authorities turning a blind eye, allege environmental activists in Meghalaya and Assam.

The Assam police earlier this month seized nearly 250 tonne of coal when it was being taken to Bangladesh from Meghalaya in nine trucks, violating official regulations.

The police said four people, including three exporters, were arrested for exporting the coal through Sutarkandi land customs station in Assam’s Karimganj district.