Indian Navy personnel come out of a coal mine during a rescue operation in Ksan, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, December 31, 2018.(Reuters Photo)
Indian Navy personnel come out of a coal mine during a rescue operation in Ksan, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, December 31, 2018.(Reuters Photo)

Search for Meghalaya miners possible after water level goes down: Navy

More than 200 rescuers, including 14 members of the Navy, 72 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescuers, 21 Odisha firefighters, 35 Coal India Limited (CIL) officials besides a team of Meghalaya-owned State Disaster Response Force are involved in the rescue operations.
By Sadiq Naqvi | Hindustan Times, Ksan
UPDATED ON DEC 31, 2018 07:03 PM IST

The Indian Navy said on Monday the search for the 15 miners trapped inside a flooded coal mine in a remote village in Meghalaya will be feasible only after the level of the water in the illegal structure comes down.

The navy divers re-entered the main shaft of the nearly 350-feet flooded mine with a remotely-operated device and came out after three hours of search for the miners. The 15 men have been trapped inside the illegal coal mine for the last 18 days in the Ksan village of coal-rich East Jaintia district, an area where illegal mining is rife and a National Green Tribunal.

(Follow live updates of the Meghalaya miners rescue operations)

The navy said visibility inside the shaft is very poor at only around one feet at the bottom. The divers, who entered the shaft on Monday to survey the bottom using an UnderWater Remotely Operated Vehicle or UWROV, found some wooden structure inside the mine as well as coal beneath. They also found mud and a rat hole with coal at its mouth.

The site, officials said, has been cleared for fire service team from Odisha, also involved in the operation, to start pumping the water from the main shaft. Other shafts nearby are being prepared to enable the pumps to operate, they said.

The navy requested the district administration earlier in the day for assistance in dewatering the mine so that the level of water comes down to 30 metres or within the safe diving limit. These safety measures are being undertaken to rule out decompression sickness in the divers, officials said.

More than 200 rescuers, including 14 members of the navy, 72 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescuers, 21 Odisha firefighters, 35 Coal India Limited (CIL) officials besides a team of Meghalaya-owned State Disaster Response Force are involved in the rescue operations.

The divers could not reach the bottom of mine on Sunday as the level of the water was miscalculated by NDRF at 70 feet rather than 125 feet.

The remote mine is a 1-1/2 hour drive and then a half-hour hike from the district headquarters of the East Jaintia Hills district. Only four-wheel-drive SUVs can navigate the three streams and the steep uphill dirt road that the last two-kilometre stretch comprises.

Mining expert and award-winning rescuer Jaswant Singh Gill lamented on the lack of coordination between the state government and rescue agencies.

“The rescue operation is very slow because lack of coordination from the state and central agencies,” Gill said, according to news agency IANS.

Gill, who shot to fame after he successfully rescued 64 miners from a flooded quarry in West Bengal in 1989, hoped the trapped miners could be “rescued alive”.

“There are instances that trapped miners can be rescued even after 22 days. Normal people can survive even for a month as there is water in the pit,” he noted.

Also read: ‘How long can one hold his breath underwater’: Man who narrowly escaped Meghalaya mine flooding

Women workers of the opposition Congress staged a token protest at the state headquarters of the party in Shillong against the Conrad Sangma-led government for the “slow process” in rescuing the trapped miners.

President of the state women’s Congress Joplin Scott Shylla criticised the government for the “slow process” in rescuing the trapped miners.

“The government was in its slumber and woke up only after Congress president Rahul Gandhi lamented on the slow progress of the rescue operation,” Shylla said.

The miners have been missing after the illegal coal mine they were digging got flooded in the coal-rich East Jaintia Hills, an area where illegal mining is rife and a National Green Tribunal ban on such activities has been in place for four years.

Meghalaya has nearly 640 million tonnes of coal reserves. Mining of coal by hand has been going on in Meghalaya for over 150 years, mostly for local use. Large-scale illegal and indiscriminate mining of the coal by private landowners and the local community started nearly three decades ago.

Most of these mines employ minors, some from neighbouring states and Nepal as well; the miners work many metres underground in unsafe conditions, mining coal with their bare hands.

(With agency inputs)

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