15 miners trapped for 14 days, Coal India finally receives Meghalaya govt SOS
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15 miners trapped for 14 days, Coal India finally receives Meghalaya govt SOS

After receiving the request to help the trappped miners, Coal India is mobilising pumps, pipes, assistance for survey and other technical assistance as sought by the Meghalaya government

india Updated: Dec 27, 2018 12:01 IST
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Rescuers work at the site of a coal mine that collapsed in Ksan, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, December 23, 2018.(REUTERS)

Thirteen days after 15 miners were trapped in a flooded mine in Meghalaya, the state owned coal mining major Coal India finally received a request for assistance sent by the state government on December 20.

Fifteen miners are trapped in a flooded illegal coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district since December 13.

JK Borah, general manager North Eastern Coalfields said the office of the chairman of Coal India received request for assistance from Shillong late afternoon on Wednesday. According to Borah, Meghalaya government has sought “10 pumps, pipes, assistance for survey and other technical assistance if needed.”

“Coal India is already mobilising these resources from its sites in Asansol, Dhanbad,Bilaspur and other areas and let’s see how much resources we can spare. We will try to help them as much as we can,” Borah said adding that assessment of the site needs to be done first for which he will be leaving for Meghalaya tomorrow. Borah said a control room has also been set up for coordination.

Earlier on Wednesday, Coal India Limited had said it was yet to receive any request from the Meghalaya government for assistance in the rescue of 15 miners.

On December 17, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said he spoke to Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, seeking assistance. On December 22, news agency PTI quoted Sangma as saying that the state government had written to Coal India, requesting high-power pumps. “We are running out of time and I hope they respond to the request. We are waiting,” Sangma was reported as saying.

When asked about Coal India’s reaction, Sangma said all relevant requests have been sent but may have not reached. “All relevant requests have been sent to relevant departments and organisations such as NDRF, Coal India, Tata Trusts and some organisation in Kerala,” he told HT.

“As far as my knowledge goes, everything has been sent but may be the communication in writing is yet to reach them,” he said.

“You will appreciate the fact that the despite the location of the mine, which is very challenging, we have pumped out 20 lakh litres of water. It is very seriously challenging and we have to pray and hope for the best and we are not giving up,” Sangma, who was in New Delhi, said.

A team led by Ashok Kumar, director, directorate-general of mine safety, visited the site of the accident on December 17 along with Coal India experts.

Deputy Commissioner FM Dopth said on Saturday that he sent a letter to the state government requesting immediate help from Coal India on December 20. In the letter, Dopth asked for 10 pumps of 100 HP capacity from Coal India, since the only two pumps at their disposal, 25 HP each, were proving inadequate to pump out the water from the flooded mine. Rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said an analysis of the water level inside the 320-350 foot deep main shaft of the illegal coal mine suggested that it is connected to the Lytein river, located 350 metres away.

Citing inadequacy of the two available pumps and their operational cost, the district administration suspended rescue operations on Monday. “We will resume once we get the pumps. We haven’t heard from the state government about our request,” said SS Syiemlieh, additional deputy commissioner, East Jaintia Hills.

Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the incident. “15 miners have been struggling for air in a flooded coal mine for two weeks. Meanwhile, the PM struts about on Bogibeel, posing for cameras. His government refuses to organize high pressure pumps for the rescue. PM please save the miners,” Gandhi tweeted, referring to the inauguration of the Bogibeel bridge in Assam on Tuesday.

Sangma responded to Gandhi’s tweet. “NDRF and State Government have been continuously working on the rescue ops. Scale of the operation is a major challenge as water from a river has entered the mines. GOI was very prompt in sending their best people to help in the rescues ops..” he wrote on Twitter.

Officials in Shillong are passing the buck. A person close to the chief minister said that the mining and geology department of the state government would have information on the status of the request but T Dkhar, commissioner and secretary, mining and geology department, said he was not aware of the details. “The disaster management department would have it,” he said on Tuesday.

“I think a letter from the deputy commissioner was received on December 21, before we shut down for the annual holidays. I saw the letter but I am not sure if it was processed,” an official in the state’s revenue and disaster management department said on condition of anonymity. “The additional chief secretary would have more information,” the official said.

Peter Ingty, the additional chief secretary, in-charge of revenue and the disaster management department, refused to comment. “I am busy at church,” he said on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

Coal India’s Borah said that pumping out water was not the solution. “The accident needs proper investigation as to where the water is leaking from. As for the questions of deploying more pumps or whether Coal India is equipped for this investigation, those will arise once we receive a request,” he added.

On December 23, Dopth told Hindustan Times that state government authorities had completed a three-day survey to ascertain the source of seepage and was compiling their findings. “They have not submitted a report yet,” SS Syiemlieh said.

Santosh Singh, the assistant commandant of the 1st Battalion of the NDRF overseeing the rescue operation at the coal mine, said there is little that the force can do if the water is not pumped out. “At present, we cannot go beyond 30 feet in the 70 feet deep water inside the mine.”

First Published: Dec 27, 2018 09:47 IST