Operations to rescue 15 miners trapped in a water-filled Meghalaya coalmine since July 6 afternoon were called off on Friday as slushy conditions were beyond the scope of the rescuers. Failure of magnetic life detectors to locate any heartbeat was also a factor.
A 31-member team of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) had reached the mine at Rongsa Awe village Wednesday night. The team called off the mission after 14 hours of search.
“The NDRF submitted a report saying they found no trappers. They also said the chances of their survival in highly acidic water were very thin,” South Garo Hills district deputy commissioner in-charge RP Marak said.
“Because of incessant rainfall, the mine access was slushy. Our canine squad, capable of sniffing up to 50-60ft did not find sings of life beneath. Neither did our magnetic life detectors register any heartbeat. That area needs excavators and earthmovers to get to the trapped miners,” NDRF commandant AK Singh told HT.
Singh added the rescue mission could have borne fruit had they received information immediately. “The incident happened on Friday, and it wasn’t until Monday or Tuesday that mine operators informed the local authorities. This is too long a time.”
Mines in Meghalaya are owned by the tribal communities. Though mining laws are applicable, the government seldom interferes. Multi-layered systems of governance – traditional village durbars, jurisdiction of king-like chieftains and district councils – with overlapping jurisdiction also add to the confusion.
“Rat-hole mines are not only dangerous for miners; they are a threat to the environment. Mine owners, enjoying patronage from the power lobby, are least bothered if abandoned mines are sealed to prevent disasters. And because of unscientific mining, we have ended up with dead rivers with no aquatic life forms left,” green activist HH Mohrmen said from Jaintia Hills district headquarters Jowai.
Meanwhile, the local police arrested the mine owner – he is also the headman of the village – a foreman and a head labourer on Thursday for causing death due to negligence. Mine operator Gurdeep Singh had been arrested earlier this week.