Shillong, Dec 15 (IANS) The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Saturday used sonar system and underwater camera to detect 13 miners, who have been trapped inside a coal pit filled with water in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district since Thursday morning.
However, the system failed to locate any of the trapped miners in the main well of the 370-feet coal pit because of poor visibility.
As the water level at the pit did not recede much despite continuous pumping, the NDRF officials suggested to the district administration of East Jaintia Hills to call in the Oil Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to deploy “submersible water pumps” to reduce the water level.
Meghalaya Police arrested Jrin alias Krip Chulet, the owner of the coal mine from Narwan village on Friday night.
The accident inside the coal pit on Thursday morning at Lumthari area was of significance, especially after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered an interim ban on “rat-hole” coal mining in the state from April 17, 2014.
“We are putting all efforts to evacuate the trapped miners. Our diving team dived twice in the main well of the coal pit and we also used sonar system and underwater camera to detect the 13 miners but couldn’t locate them due to very poor visibility… the oxygen level is also bit low,” Assistant Commandant NDRF, Santosh Kumar Singh, told IANS.
More than 100 rescuers including 72 members from the NDRF, 23 members from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and five members of the Fire and Emergency Service were deployed to rescue the miners.
“We suspect the miners are trapped inside the lateral mining chambers of coal pit. It is difficult to know as to how many chambers are there because of poor visibility.
“We will continue with our rescue operations tomorrow (Sunday) morning but we will continue to pump out the water the whole night to ensure that the water level recede, and that would help us to bring them over ground,” Singh said.
Meanwhile, the district administration in East Jaintia Hills, will install three more additional water pumps to reduce the water level inside the coal pit. Two water pumps have been already pressed into service.
“We have already made contact with the ONGC to deploy the submersible waters pumps as suggested by the NDRF,” F.M. Dopth, the District Magistrate, told IANS.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had promised that “appropriate action will be taken at appropriate time against the people who are involved in the illegal mining and this is not acceptable to us”.
Moreover, the NGT-appointed judicial panel Chairman, B.P. Kakoty said the mining accident showed clear cut violation of the apex green court’s ban on all kinds of coal mining activities in Meghalaya.
“We are aware of the illegal mining activities in that area (Lumthari) and the Deputy Commissioner (East Jaintia Hills) has admitted that some mining activities were going on despite the ban, and they did nothing to arrest it and so this mining accident has occurred,” Kakoty told IANS over phone.
Police has registered a case against the mine owner under Sections 188, 304 A and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, Section 3(2)(d) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, and Section 21(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act.
Coal mine accidents are common in the mountainous state because of unscientific mining commonly known as “rat hole mining”.
Meghalaya has a coal reserve of 640 million tonnes. The coal is high in sulphur content and is mostly of sub bituminous type.