The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to give mine owners extra time to transport coal that was extracted before the National Green Tribunal banned coal mining in the state in 2014. It also criticised the Meghalaya government for not curbing rampant illegal coal mining in the state, NDTV reported.

“The present incident [15 miners trapped in rat hole mines] shows illegal mining continues despite the ban and the state may not be supporting it but has failed to contain illegal mining,” the court said.

Fifteen miners have been trapped in an illegal rat hole mine in the state’s East Jaintia Hills district since December 13. They are feared dead.

Earlier this month, a citizens’ group urged the top court to ban coal mining in the state and accused the government of colluding with those in the industry. The Meghalaya government wilfully and actively helped coal miners illegally extract coal and transport it in violation of orders of the tribunal and the Supreme Court, the group alleged.

Angela Rangad, the group’s leader, said there were 24,626 coal mines in the district, averaging to as many as 52 mines per square kilometre. “...Out of the 57 months [since the ban], the NGT and the Supreme Court has allowed 32 months of transportation,” Rangad said. “Where did so much untransported coal come from? We have requested the court to issue direction to the state government to confiscate all untransported coal and use it in public undertaking factories.”

Miners trapped

About 200 personnel from the Navy, National Disaster Response Force, Coal India, and Kirloskar Brothers Limited are part of the mission to rescue the trapped miners. But rescue operations have been marred by extremely high water levels in the mine. Over 1 crore litres of water have been pumped out of the main shaft of the 370-foot-deep mine. Another 2 crore litres of water has been pumped out from adjacent mines, but the rescuers still do not know how and where the water is coming from.

The Supreme Court had earlier pulled up the government for its inefficiency in conducting rescue efforts and had asked for updates. It had also asked the Centre and the Meghalaya government to seek assistance from experts and continue the efforts.