All appropriate steps being taken to rescue 15 people trapped in illegal mine: Centre to SC

File photo. Photograph:( PTI )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 07, 2019, 07.34 PM (IST)

The Centre informed the Supreme Court Monday that all appropriate steps were being taken to rescue 15 miners trapped since December 13 in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya and Indian Navy has deployed remotely operated underwater vehicle in the operation there.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that 71 members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), 20 from State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 16 Navy personnel and others, including those from Odisha fire service and Coal India Ltd were working in the rescue operation.

The Meghalaya government meanwhile filed a status report on the rescue operation and said there were problems like difficult terrain and lack of proper infrastructure at the site which was creating hurdles.

The apex court is hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Aditya N Prasad who has sought urgent steps to rescue 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district.

Senior lawyer Anand Grover, representing the petitioner, told the bench that he would make a note based on the status report filed in the court and give suggestions which could be considered.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on January 11.

During the brief hearing, Mehta told the bench that the Navy was using a remotely operated underwater vehicle in the rescue operation and soon three more such vehicles would be sent there.

The state government, in its status report, said there was no blueprint of the illegal coal mine as it was being run "clandestinely" and rescue operation was extremely challenging as the site was in a difficult terrain where public services, infrastructure and material required were not easily available.

It said the site is located at Ksan near river Letein and is more than 30 km away from the headquarters and from the road, it was about 3.7 kilometre into the jungle and can be accessed after crossing three streams.

The state said water was rushing into the mine from the nearby river and it was interlinked with at least 20 other mines there.

It said the site can be accessed only by 4X4 vehicles and there was a complete lack of availability of electricity in the nearby areas.

It informed the court that fuel required to run generator sets, pumps and vehicles there have to be brought from a distance of one hour and high powered generator sets have to be brought in there for the rescue operation.

"All efforts to rescue the trapped miners are being made with all earnestness and with the hope that the miners are surviving and shall be released from the ordeal," it said.

On the issue of funds, the state said, "Advance fund for meeting any emergency arising from natural calamities is placed with the Deputy Commissioner (DC).

At the start of the rescue operation, DC had more than Rs 30 lakh at his disposal.

On January 3, the government took a decision to place an additional Rs 20 lakh with the DC to meet the requirements.

" It said the state was getting requisite support from the Centre, the Indian Navy, Odisha Fire Department and other concerned agencies to expedite the rescue operation.

"The NDRF team also used the SONAR system for detection of the trapped victims but were not successful," it said.

SONAR system uses sound propagation to navigate or detect objects on or under the surface of the water.

Meghalaya government said that on December 13 last year, the district administration had received information at around 2 PM that some miners are trapped and the NDRF, SDRF and civil defence services were immediately requisitioned for the rescue operation.

It said that on December 28-29, Indian Navy divers reached the spot and high powered water pumps were also being used there to flush out the water from the mine.

On January 4, the Centre had told the apex court that they were facing difficulties in rescuing the 15 miners as there was no blueprint of the 355-feet well which has "maze of rat holes" and seepage of water from the river was hindering the operation.

The rat-hole mine, atop a hillock fully covered with trees in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded when water from the nearby Letein river gushed into it, trapping 15 miners.

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal.

The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person.

The apex court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Meghalaya government to rescue 15 miners trapped in the illegal coal mine and had said "prompt, immediate and effective" operation was needed to rescue them as it was a matter of life and death.

Story highlights

The Centre informed the Supreme Court Monday that all appropriate steps were being taken to rescue 15 miners trapped since December 13 in an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya and that the Indian Navy has deployed remotely-operated underwater vehicle in the operation there.