Cachar Police on May 31 had informed the Meghalaya Police that 6 labourers from Assam were possibly trapped in a coal-mine in East Jaintia Hills. The East Jaintia Hills police had then identified the suspected coal-mine in Sutunga Interior, under Umpleng AD Camp and had initiated search operations. The East Jaintia Hills district administration has identified five miners, four of whom are from Assam and one is from Tripura - Abdul Karim and Abdul Kalam from Assam and Shyamcharan Debbarma from Tripura. The remaining two unidentified miners are from Assam. As per reports, a dynamite blast had led to the flooding of the mine on Sunday.
But heavy rainfall on Tuesday was hampering the rescue operation for at least five miners trapped for at least two days in that illegal rat-hole coal pit. Twenty-five personnel of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), and fire service personnel are at the site. E Kharmalki, East Jaintia Hills DC, informed that attempts were being made to mobilize a crane to first ascertain the depth of the mine. A high-powered pump has also been requisitioned which would be used once divers are able to enter the pit to look for the trapped individuals.
The district administration has also issued a public notice seeking information about the accident on May 30. Anyone with any information has been requested to depose at the office of the Deputy Commissioner between 11 am and 3 pm by June 8.
The East Jaintia Hills SP, Jagpal Singh Dhanoa said that operations have been launched to nab the ‘sordar’ (mine manager) who fled the scene and had threatened locals against speaking up about the incident. Meanwhile, a suspect has been detained but he tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently in quarantine at a government facility at Khliehriat.
Despite the ban imposed on illegal rat-hole mining by the National Green Tribunal in 2014, it is allegedly still rampant in Meghalaya. In rat-hole mining, a deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal.
The latest update is that rescuers have managed to reach the bottom of the vertical pit with hooks, rope and a crane on Wednesday but to no success. The miners could have been trapped in several of the horizontal smaller holes.The rescue teams, comprising personnel of the SDRF and Fire Service, descended the vertical pit early morning on June 2 to verify the depth of the water level by using a crane. Three individuals along with a rescuer hopped onto an iron basket attached to the crane by a two-inch iron wire used for lowering it up and down.
As rain stopped later on Wednesday, the rescue operation could be carried out. The depth of water in the pit has been verified to be 152 feet while the pit itself has been estimated to be over 500 feet deep. But the limit for divers in high-altitude areas is 30-35 feet. Considering the water level, the district administration has requisitioned pumps and manpower from the NDRF to help in the operations. Two pumps have reached the site and preparations are on to lower the water level by pumping out the water. More pumps will be brought in if needed.