The Supreme Court on Thursday said it was not satisfied with the rescue operations in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills where 15 miners have been trapped in a rat hole mine since December 13, PTI reported. The court said “prompt, immediate and effective” operation is needed to rescue the miners as it is a matter of life and death.

“No matter whether they are all dead, some alive, few dead or all alive, they should be taken out,” the Supreme Court said. “We pray to God they are alive.”

A bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to inform it on Friday about the measures the government intends to take to rescue the miners. “For people who are trapped there, every minute counts,” the bench said. “As the Union, you should do something now. Either you take the help of Army, which has not been done yet. They [Army] are ready and they have volunteered also.”

Mehta said the government had sent Navy personnel instead of the Army as the mine was submerged in water.

The state government told the top court that 72 National Disaster Response Force personnel, 14 Navy personnel, and Coal India personnel have been working at the site since December 14. “Then, why are they not successful?” the court asked the state. The judges also asked why the government had not ordered the Army to join the rescue operation.

The court was hearing a petition seeking urgent directions to the central and state governments to rescue the trapped miners. The petition asked the court to direct the Centre and other authorities to prepare a standard operating procedure for such rescue operations.

It has been almost three weeks since the miners were trapped in a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya’s East Jainitia Hills district, and experts say the prospects of finding survivors have plunged.

Rescue operations had come 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. The entire rescue operation has been marred by poor communication and delayed responses from the government.

The petition said the governments must use the expertise of the Indian defence forces in the rescue operation, the Hindustan Times reported. Petitioner lawyer Aditya N Prasad 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”.

Some reports have said that a few family members of the trapped miners have begun to give up hope that they are alive. “We have lost all hope to see him alive again,” Krishna Limbu, brother-in-law of trapped miner Assh Bahadur Limbu told IANS. “It is 21 days now and the water level in the pit is not receding despite Odisha fire services personnel pumping out the water since yesterday.”