Shillong: The families of four of the 15 miners trapped inside a 370-foot-deep coal mine in Meghalaya Saturday urged rescuers to retrieve a decomposed body spotted by divers so that they can perform the last rites.
The Navy divers had detected Wednesday the decomposed body of one of the miners, using an unmanned, remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) at a depth of around 160 feet inside the main shaft.
Officials have said it would be "extremely difficult" to retrieve the decomposed body intact. "It is difficult to retrieve the remains detected (by the ROV) without disintegration as wanted by the family members and shown in the recorded video taken by the Navy's ROV," East Jaintia Hills district Deputy Commissioner F M Dopth said.
A senior government official said that the rescue operation is still underway because of a Supreme Court order. The district authorities are waiting for family members from West Garo Hills district in western Meghalaya to reach the site.
Seven miners from Rajabala area have been confirmed trapped inside the ill-fated mine when horizontal holes dug along the coal seam accidentally flooded on December 13, operation spokesperson R Susngi said.
"We want the body," said Manik Ali, whose 20-year-old brother Monirul Islam is among the 15 miners trapped in the rat-hole mine. "Even if they manage to get a finger or a bone out of the shaft, it is fine for us. We will at least be able to bury the dead with some respect," said Ali.
Ali, representing the families of three trapped miners from Assam's Chirang district, and Aminul Uddin from Hojai district were called by the district administration and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Thursday to see video footage of the body.
"They showed us the video. The body is swollen. The face cannot be seen so we cannot make out who it is," said Aminul Uddin, who worked at the same coal mine with his elder brother Kuti Miya.
Aminul Uddin was lucky as he went home on December 7 to vote in Assam's panchayat elections. "On the evening of December 13, I got to know that my brother is trapped," he said.
On December 13, water from nearby Lytein river flooded a network of tunnels in the mine, trapping 15 men.
A multi-agency operation, which includes de-watering of the main shaft where the miners are trapped and in the nearby mines, have failed to yield any result so far, as the water level did not reduce even after pumping out over 3 crore litres of water, officials had said.
The district administration and rescuers have told the families that the body could disintegrate if it is pulled out and that it would be difficult to retrieve it.
"It does not matter. We are Muslims. According to the Quran, we have to bury the dead. I can recognise if it's my brother even if I get to see the ring on his finger," said Ali.
"I have lived with my brother all my life. I will be able to recognise him," said Aminul.
Both of them said they have conveyed the message to the district administration. "The deputy commissioner is talking to the next of kin and trying to convince them that it is very difficult to retrieve the body," said Additional Chief Secretary Peter Ingty, who is overseeing the rescue operation.
He said it is because of the Supreme Court order that the operation has not been called off.
"It is only because of the Supreme Court order that we are hanging on. Submissions will be made before the court and let's see what happens," Ingty said.
The apex court is hearing public interest litigation seeking steps to rescue the 15 miners. District SP Sylvester Nongtynger said the investigation officer of the case will act on the claims made by the family members of Kuti Miya.