The Meghalaya government report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday reveals that the 15 miners trapped in an illegal rat-hole mine in East Jaintia Hills were presumed dead the day the accident was reported. The district administration wrote to the National Disaster Response Force on December 13 asking for help in recovering the “dead bodies”.
The state government on Monday submitted a status report as part of a response to a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court, seeking greater urgency in the ongoing operation to rescue the miners. The government claimed that it has made “every effort possible with promptitude” and “deployed requisite man-machinery…as expeditiously as possible” to rescue the trapped miners. Yet, documents submitted by the government suggest they were presumed dead the day the accident came to light.
The document from the district administration to the National Disaster Response Force is among the documents submitted by the state government. “Due to the overflowing of water, the dead bodies are still trapped inside and could not be seen. Efforts are being made to recover the dead bodies by pumping the water with the help of generator and is in progress,” Deputy Commissioner Federick M Dopth wrote. “In this connection, you are requested to depute team to this district for rescue operation.”
An unidentified National Disaster Response Force official at the site confirmed they were “made to understand that the people trapped are dead” as soon as they arrived.
On December 17, the Meghalaya government also submitted a letter in which Dopth told the state’s Additional Chief Secretary PW Ingty that the local mine managers had asked for more men and machinery to be called in on the basis of their knowledge of the local topography. “To this effect, they have also submitted the list of equipment, approximate cost of such equipment,” Dopth wrote.
In the same letter, Dopth added that the director of mines safety “had endorsed the same inputs” before asking Ingty if “such huge expenditure will be assented [to] by the government or not”. Dopth also asked for advice on the future course of action given that as per the inputs received till then, “we may not be able to retrieve the dead bodies”.
However, it was almost 10 days later, on December 26, that Ingty finally wrote to Coal India Limited seeking technical expertise and better equipment.
The Supreme Court on January 3 had expressed dissatisfaction with the rescue operation and asked why the Army had not been called in for its support.