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Meghalaya miners: Have to believe in miracles, Centre to SC

Disaster Accident

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

The Centre told the Supreme Court Friday that it has to "believe in miracles" and see if the 15 miners, who have been trapped for almost a month inside an illegal rat-hole coal mine filled with water in Meghalaya, come out alive.

It said the authorities were making all efforts to save the lives of these persons and the Indian Navy and planes and helicopters of the Indian Air Force have been deployed in the rescue operation.

"We have to believe in miracles," Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta told a bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer, which observed that it was not known if they were still alive.

"There is no dispute that you are making efforts. Whether they (miners) are alive today, we do not know. May be somebody is alive there. You have to take them out," the bench told Mehta, adding, "You have to continue making efforts".

The apex court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Aditya N Prasad, who sought urgent steps to rescue the 15 miners.

The Centre and the Meghalaya government apprised the bench about the steps taken in the operation to rescue the 15 miners who are trapped there since December 13 last year.

The bench sought to know from the state government as to whether any action has been taken against those indulging in illegal mining activities in Meghalaya.

The state's counsel said the person running the illegal mine where the incident took place has been arrested.

He apprised the bench that the Indian Navy has deployed five remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) in the operation and 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.

Senior lawyer Anand Grover, appearing for the petitioner, said they were happy with the steps taken by the authorities but there was problem of co-ordination among the agencies.

He said there was no mapping of the mine as it was illegal but equipment was available in India which can go deep inside the water and help in ascertaining the topography of the site.

He gave some suggestions to assist in rescue operation and said the main hurdles were the remote location and difficult terrain, no blue print of mines, water seeping into the mines from unknown source and no knowledge of connection with nearby mines.

Grover said the petitioner was in touch with Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Roorkee-based National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) and some other private research institutes including Planys Technology, Chennai, which can assist in the rescue operation.

He said these institutes are capable of mapping the mines and though under water rovers were available, the equipment has to be airlifted and the Air Force can do the needful.

Mehta said the government has already contacted these institutes and requested them for help.

He assured the top court that suggestions given by Grover would be taken into consideration and would be acted upon in whatever manner possible.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on January 18.

During the hearing, Grover told the court that the Navy has deployed ROVs in the rescue operation but desired result was not coming out as smaller equipments were required there.

He said smaller ROVs were available in India which can go deep inside the mine and take pictures even in muddy waters.

Regarding Grover's submission that there was a problem of co-ordination among the authorities, Mehta said additional chief secretary of Meghalaya was co-ordinating with every agency involved in the rescue operation.

"No stone is left unturned to rescue these persons," Mehta said.

The state's counsel said that though one crore litres of water has been pumped out from the mine, the decrease of water level was only about eight inches as seepage from the nearby river has increased.

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.

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 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.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Fri, January 11 2019. 18:05 IST