The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it would continue to search for the 15 miners who have been trapped for more than a month in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya, ANI reported.

The miners were trapped when a portion of the mine in the state’s East Jaintia Hills district collapsed on December 13. All the trapped people are feared dead. A joint rescue operation is being carried out in the mine by the National Disaster Response Force, the Odisha Fire Department, the Indian Navy and other rescue experts.

The government made a commitment to continue the rescue efforts at a hearing on a public interest litigation seeking urgent action by the administration. At an earlier hearing this month, the Supreme Court had criticised the administration for failing to take prompt steps to reach the miners.

The Meghalaya government on Monday submitted a status report listing the steps taken between January 7 and January 17 to rescue the miners.

On January 17, Navy personnel had spotted a body around 210 feet from the surface. But the effort to retrieve it was abandoned on Sunday as the body had decomposed and was disintegrating.

An advocate appearing for the Meghalaya government told the court that the Navy believed it would be “virtually impossible” to retrieve the body intact. “In the process of pulling out the body, the skull, the left wrist, and the leg from the knee-level got disengaged,” said advocate Amit Kumar, reading from the status report. “It is the considered opinion of the naval team that if the body is pulled further, there will be total disintegration of different parts, rendering the same virtually impossible to retrieve.”

He added: “Presumably and as per the latest reports, the bodies of the remaining miners are behind the body detected on January 16.”

Rescue teams have so far pumped out more than one crore litres of water from the mine, despite which the water level in the shafts has not fallen, the report said. “The constant water column of about 65 metres in the main shaft is the main hindrance for the rescue operation of the NDRF [National Disaster Response Force] and Indian Navy,” it added.

The Supreme Court TOLD the Centre and the state to consider the petitioner’s suggestions and decided to hear the matter next week.