January 15, 2019

Trapped miners proof illegal mining hasn’t stopped: SC slams Meghalaya govt

The Supreme Court on Tuesday hauled up the Meghalaya government on the issue of illegal coal mining in the state.

Citing the recent incidents of miners getting trapped, the Supreme Court said that it shows that the state government has failed to contain illegal mining.

The court also refused to give the mine owners any more time to transport the extracted coal for sale. The state has been seeking time since 2014 to let transportation of coal continue despite the NGT ban on mining in the Meghalaya hills. The state has maintained that the coal was extracted before the NGT banned coal mining.

On Friday, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre and the state government to take the help of experts to rescue the 15 miners who are trapped in a “rat hole mine” in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills since December 13 last year.

“Carry on with your rescue efforts, what if all or at least some are still alive? Miracles do happen,” the Court had said.

The court had also asked the state government to give details of the action taken against those who were operating the illegal mines as well as the officials who had permitted the activity.

At least 15 miners are trapped in a 370-foot deep illegal coal mine at Khloo Ryngkasan area of East Jaintia Hills since December 13.

At the vertical shaft of the mine, the water level is about 160 feet deep rendering the rescue divers from the Indian Navy and the National Disaster Response Force unable to perform safe diving as it is beyond their 100 feet diving capacity, Susngi said.

At least 200 rescuers from the Navy, NDRF, the Odisha Fire Service, State Disaster Response Fund, states Fire service and others from CIL and KBL are involved in the multi-agency rescue operations.

The accident at the mine, about 140 km away from the state capital, has thrown lights on the presence of illegal coal mining using unsafe and unscientific rat-hole methods despite the National Green Tribunal ban since 2014.

The Navy spent most of Monday trying to retrieve its unmanned vehicle that had got stuck during underwater searches for the 15 miners.

During the day, a separate underwater search operation in a nearby abandoned mine was also launched using smaller robotic vehicles.

The Chennai-based company conducting these searches has been tasked with preparing a map of these rat-hole mines and see if there was any traces of the trapped diggers, search operations spokesperson R Susngi said.

The efforts to de-water the main shaft, where the miners are trapped, were affected on Monday due to the Navy’s efforts to retrieve their unmanned vehicle which got stuck on Sunday night.

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