Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Saturday said time was running out for the miners trapped inside a 370-foot illegal coal mine since December 13 and in its last-ditch effort to save them, the state government has sought high-power submersible pumps from the Coal India Ltd.
He said the state government has written to the Coal India seeking their special pumps (high-power submersible pumps) to aid the rescue of the 15 miners in Lumthari area of East Jaintia Hills district.
"We are running out of time and I hope they respond to the request. We are waiting," he said.
The miners were trapped after water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into the illegal rat-hole mine at Ksan area in Lumthari village.
Operations to rescue the trapped miners entered its 10th day on Saturday. Over a 100 personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) are at the site, alongside the state police.
As of now, two pumps have been working in tandem, but "there was little impact on the water level since the water from the nearby Lytein river has got into the mine," district SP S Nongtynger said.
He added that efforts over the past nine days have failed to produce the desired results and the rescue workers are now hoping for a miracle to see the trapped miners alive.
On December 13, around 20 miners entered the 370-foot mine at about 8 am. After reaching the bottom of the pit, the miners entered the horizontal manholes, often termed as 'rat-holes', as each just about fits one person to get in.
According to villagers, one of the diggers could have accidentally punctured the walls of the cave and the river water gushed in immediately, trapping the miners inside.
Only five persons managed to climb out of the mine. Of them, two are locals and the police are after the remaining three who had fled to West Garo Hills district.
One person has been arrested in the case so far and the police are on the lookout for the mine owner, the SP said.
The arrested person, identified as Krip Chullet, was allegedly involved in hiring labourers, overseeing the work and sending them down the shaft.
The Meghalaya government had sought the Union Home Ministry's help to rescue the miners. The NDRF teams, which are involved in the rescue operation, had earlier suggested the district administration to ask the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation to deploy submersible water pumps to reduce the water level.
In 2014, the National Green Tribunal had imposed a ban in Meghalaya on rat-hole coal mining, a technique that entails digging small vertical pits to reach the mineral pockets.