Trapped Meghalaya miners may be dead, Supreme Court informed
The Meghalaya government on Monday indicated to the Supreme Court that the workers trapped in an illegal coal mine in the state for more than a month may have died.
In a status report filed before the top court, the state government said, “There is a strong possibility of other bodies being behind” the corpse of one of the missing miners, which was spotted by the Indian Navy’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in one of the shafts on January 16.
The body was in a highly decomposed state and authorities have sought help of family members of the missing miners to identify the victim.
Fifteen miners got trapped in a rat-hole mine, located on a hillock fully covered with trees in East Jaintia Hills district, when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it on December 13.
The status report, submitted by advocate Amit Kumar, said the bodies of the remaining 14 miners are behind the body that was spotted by the navy last week.
The report that was submitted before a bench of justices A K Sikri and S A Nazeer also said that the ROV had detected the body at a depth of 210 feet in the flooded mine.
Identification of the body was not possible because it was lying face down and it was in a decomposed state.
An attempt was made to retrieve the body which had a red T-shirt and jeans attached to it. It was brought up to 100 feet with the help of the ROV but by then body parts started disintegrating making the operation very difficult, the report said. The medical team also advised against moving the body any further as it may cause complete disintegration.
The state government said the family members of the missing miners were being consulted to decide the future course of action. The water level in the mine has not depleted despite the use of pumps. Continuous seepage of water from the nearby Lytein river into the illegal mine was the main hindrance in the rescue operations.
“The continuous recharge in the shaft may be from some highly pervious zones like fracture zone or limestone caverns present at similar water level as the river bed. It is possible that the miners may have punctured the condoned aquifers,” it added.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta assured the court that the Centre was not abandoning efforts to rescue the trapped miners.
The apex court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking its intervention in the matter. The Meghalaya government presented its status report on the court’s directions.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, representing the petitioner, alleged that rescue operation had been abandoned and members of the National Disaster Response Force, the navy and other organisations were waiting for the court’s nod to call it off.