Too little, too late? Hopes faint as rescue teams rush to Meghalaya
Now 14 days after the accident, scathing criticism has done what the miners’ plight failed to do : stir the state government to ask for help from the Center. The air force, the navy, the NDMA and a plethora of sophisticated equipment are now on their way to the remote site of the accident. But it is a classic case of too little, too late.Updated: Dec 29, 2018 08:41 IST
“The miserable have no other medicine but only hope,” wrote Shakespeare. And given the abject tardiness of Meghalaya’s state administration for 15 days since 15 miners were trapped in flooding inside a rathole mine in Ksan in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, hope is all their poor families can cling to. Now 14 days after the accident, scathing criticism has done what the miners’ plight failed to do : stir the state government to ask for help from the Center. The air force, the navy, the NDMA and a plethora of sophisticated equipment are now on their way to the remote site of the accident. But it is a classic case of too little, too late.
In defiance of a NGT ban on rat-hole mining in Meghalaya, an unscrupulous mine-owner sends between 18-22 men into the Ksan mine, 350 meters from the Lytein river. The mine floods at around 8 am. Reports on survivors vary, HT speaks to one. Authorities begin pumping out the water and send a message to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for help. The NDRF receives the request at 7 pm and straightaway dispatches a team of 71 personnel, albeit with no prior experience of mining accidents.
NDRF team arrives at the East Jaintia Hills site at 3 am.
NDRF says six more pumps will be pressed into service and that there are 71 NDRF and 22 State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel including deep divers, sniffer dogs and other equipment on site.
Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma tells HT that he has sent an SOS to the Center for help. He says that ace diver Jaswant Singh Gill from Amritsar with prior experience of saving miners in West Bengal will also reach the site. East Jaintia Hills Deputy Commissioner FM Dopth says he has requested state government for more powerful pumps as advised by the Director of Mines Safety.
Diver Gill reaches site, makes recommendations to district administration to forward to state government. He agrees with the need for 100 hp submersible pumps and leaves Meghalaya.
Dopth writes letter to additional chief secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management requesting that the “state government should immediately write and seek help from Coal India Ltd to depute technical persons to conduct the rescue operations.” A copy of the letter is marked to CM Conrad Sanghma’s office. It asks that Coal India to lend equipment including 10 pumps of 100 HP.
Dopth tells HT that he has dispatched letter dated Dec 20. CM Conrad Sangma tells Press Trust of India (PTI) that he has written to Coal India requesting pumps.
Pumping operations at the Ksan mine are suspended since the water level has not receded. Authorities decide to wait for the Coal India pumps. The NDRF rescue team continues diving sorties but rule out the presence of the miners in the main shaft.
NDRF suspends its diving operations because the crane operator does not show up on Christmas Day.
DC Dopth goes on ‘medical leave’ Disaster Management Department confirms to HT that Dopth’s letter requesting pumps was received but not processed because of holidays. Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacks Meghalaya state government and PM Modi. Coal India confirms that it has received request from Meghalaya government.
Congress’ Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor mobilises Kirloskar pumps. Kirloskar team arrives at site by the evening. Officials in Ministry of Home Affairs MHA and Ministry of Defence (MoD) in New Delhi, who did not wish to be named, confirm receipt of request from the Meghalaya state government, only on Dec 27th. MHA mobilises C-130 IAF Aircraft, NDMA and fire-fighting team from Bhubaneshwar to mine disaster site in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya Congress MP Vincent Pala says his ‘sources’ in the area tell him that the miners have died. Indian Navy deploys a 15-member divers’ team from Visakhapatnam. Odisha fire team leaves for site after waiting more than six hours at Guwahati airport for suitable transport from Meghalaya administration.