The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a petition seeking urgent directions to the Centre and Meghalaya governments to rescue the 15 people trapped in a flooded rat-hole mine in the state’s East Jainitia Hills district since December 13.
The petition was filed by lawyer Aditya N Prasad, PTI reported. A two-judge bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SK Kaul will take it up for hearing on Thursday. The petition asked the court to direct the Centre and other authorities to prepare a standard operating procedure for such rescue operations.
Rescue operations came to a standstill on Tuesday after high-powered pumps being used to draw out water had technical problems. A team of Navy divers and personnel from the Odisha Fire Services and Coal India are trying to save the miners.
Prasad, in his petition, said the governments must use the expertise of the Indian defence forces in the rescue operation, the Hindustan Times reported. He asked the government to requisition high-capacity pumps available in the country and airlift them to the site where the miners are trapped. Coal India must be directed to provide “necessary technical know-how, equipment and guidance immediately at the rescue site”.
On Tuesday, Navy personnel surveyed the main shaft of the mine in Ksan using unmanned remotely operated vehicles before the pumps had stopped working. They were being assisted by the National Disaster Response Force.
On Monday, the Navy personnel had found some wooden structure inside the mine, and a rat hole with coal at its mouth. According to them, visibility is only around one foot at the bottom of the main pit and hence the water needs to be pumped out before any rescue attempt can be made.
Rat-hole mining of coal – a technique that entails digging small vertical pits to reach the mineral and carving narrow sideways tunnels to move it underground – was banned in Meghalaya in 2014 by the National Green Tribunal as it did not follow regulations. But activists have said that coal continues to be mined illegally and this incident appears to be proof of that.