The Meghalaya government informed the Supreme Court Friday that the Indian Navy has deployed five remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) in the operation to rescue 15 miners trapped inside an illegal coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district since December 13.
The state government told a bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer that one crore litres of water had been pumped out from the illegal mine, but seepage from nearby rivers was creating hurdles in the rescue operation. The bench sought to know from the state's counsel as to whether any action had been taken against those indulging in illegal mining activities.
The counsel told the court that the person running the illegal mine where the incident took place had been arrested. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the court that every possible step has been taken for the rescue of the trapped miners and the Indian Air Force has deployed planes and helicopters for airlifting requisite equipment and manpower.
The bench has posted the matter to January 18 for further hearing. The apex court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Aditya N Prasad, who sought urgent steps to rescue the 15 miners trapped in the illegal coal mine. Earlier, the Centre had informed the top court that all appropriate steps were being taken to rescue the miners. Mehta had earlier told the apex court that 71 members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), 20 from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 16 Navy personnel and others, including those from Odisha fire service and Coal India Ltd., were working in the rescue operation.
The Meghalaya government had filed a status report on the rescue operation and said there were problems like difficult terrain and lack of proper infrastructure at the site which were creating hurdles. The state government, in its status report, had said there was no blue print of the illegal coal mine as it was being run "clandestinely" and rescue operation was extremely challenging as the site was in a difficult terrain where public services, infrastructure and material required were not easily available. It had said that the site was located at Ksan near the river Letein. It was about 3.7 kilometres deep inside a jungle and can be accessed after crossing three streams.
The state had said that water was rushing into the mine from the nearby river and it was interlinked with at least 20 other mines there. It had said the site can be accessed only by 4X4 vehicles and there was complete lack of availability of electricity in nearby areas. It had informed the court that fuel required to run generator sets, pumps and vehicles there have to be brought from a distance of one hour and high-powered generator sets have to be brought in there for the rescue operation. On the issue of funds, the state had said, "Advance fund for meeting any emergency arising from natural calamities is placed with the Deputy Commissioner (DC).
At the start of the rescue operation, DC had more than Rs 30 lakh at his disposal. On January 3, the government took a decision to place additional Rs 20 lakh with the DC to meet the requirements." It had said the state was getting requisite support from the Centre, the Indian Navy, Odisha Fire Department and other agencies concerned to expedite the rescue operation.
The Meghalaya government had said that on December 13, the district administration had received information at around 2 PM that some miners are trapped and the NDRF, SDRF and civil defence services were immediately requisitioned for rescue operation. It had said that on December 28-29, Indian Navy divers reached at the spot and high-powered water pumps were also being used there to flush out the water from the mine. The rat-hole mine, atop a hillock fully covered with trees in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded when water from the nearby Letein river gushed into it, trapping 15 miners. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four-foot high, for workers to enter and extract coal.
The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person. The apex court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Meghalaya government to rescue the miners trapped in the illegal coal mine and had said "prompt, immediate and effective" operation was needed to rescue them as it was a matter of life and death.