Families want miner’s body in Meghalaya, but retrieval is risky
The families of four of the 15 miners trapped in a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya have requested the rescue teams and the district administration to retrieve the dead body spotted by the Navy’s Remotely Operated Vehicle on Wednesday even as government officials warned that it would be extremely difficult to retrieve the body.
State government officials also suggested that rescue operation is still under way only because of the Supreme Court order. The matter will be heard again on Monday.
“We want the body,” said Manik Ali, whose 20-year-old brother Monirul Islam is among at least 15 miners who were trapped as the rat-hole mine was flooded on December 13. “Even if they manage to get a finger or a bone out of the shaft, it is fine for us. We will at least be able to bury the dead with some respect,” said Manik Ali.
A joint rescue operation involving local workers, National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and Indian Navy among others, has been on at the illegal rat-hole mine at Khloo Ryngksan in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district.
Ali, representing the three trapped miners from Assam’s Chirang district and Aminul Uddin, from Hojai district were called by the district administration and the NDRF on Thursday to see the footage of the dead body and help with mapping of the mine. The dead body is yet to be identified.
“They showed us the video. The body is swollen. Its face is not seen so we cannot make out who it is,” said Aminul Uddin, who worked at the same coal mine with his elder brother Kuti Miya. He was lucky as he went home on December 7 to vote in Assam’s Panchayat elections. “On the evening of December 13, I got to know that my brother is trapped,” he said.
Kuti Miya from Hojai in Assam does not figure in the official list of 15 trapped miners. Sayeb Ali, who managed to get out of the mine just in time as it got flooded had said 17 people were trapped inside. Aminul said the family is yet to get the ₹1 lakh interim compensation from the state government.
The district administration and rescuers have told the families that the body could disintegrate if it is pulled out and that it would be difficult to retrieve it. The families, however, say it won’t be difficult to identify it.
“It does not matter. We are Muslims. According to Quran we have to bury the dead. I can recognize if it’s my brother even if I get to see the ring on his finger,” said Ali.
“I have lived with my brother all my life. I will be able to recognize him,” said Aminul.
Both of them said they have conveyed the message to the district administration.
The state government, meanwhile, seems to be reluctant to retrieve the dead body. “The deputy commissioner is talking to the next of kin and trying to convince them that it is very difficult to retrieve the dead bodies,” said Peter Ingty, Additional Chief Secretary, who is overseeing the rescue operation.
He said it is because of the Supreme Court order that the operation has not been called off. “It is only because of the Supreme Court order that we are hanging on. Submissions will be made before the court and let’s see what happens,” Ingty said.
“The expenditure is heavy. But we are lucky that it is borne by the Government of India but locally also there is a lot of expenditure,” he said.
At least 200 rescuers from the Navy, NDRF, the Odisha Fire Service, State Disaster Response Force, states Fire service and others from CIL and KBL are involved in the multi-agency rescue operations.
Last week, the Supreme Court pulled up the state government for its inaction against illegal miners while saying that rescues efforts must continue.
The top court asked the Centre and the Meghalaya government to take help of experts and continue efforts to rescue the miners. “Carry on with your rescue efforts, what if all or at least some are still alive? Miracles do happen,” a bench headed by Justice AK Sikri said.