Shillong: With rescue operations suspended for the second day in a row, there seems to be no hope in sight for the 15 labourers trapped in a 370-foot-deep illegal coal mine in Ksan area of Lumthari village in Meghalaya.
Rescue efforts so far have failed to extricate any of the labourers, who've been trapped for more than 13 days in the rat hole. Meanwhile, the water level in the flooded mine in East Jaintia Hills district has not receded, a senior official said. The fate of the workers now hangs in balance with authorities yet to touch base with them.
On December 13, nearly 20 miners entered the quarry owned by Krip Chullet. After reaching the bottom of the pit, they entered horizontal manholes, often termed as 'rat-holes', as each just about fits one person. The miners were trapped in the illegal pit after water from nearby Lytein River gushed into the mine. Five persons were able to climb out of the flooded mine, leaving the others behind.
Search operations were hit after the Meghalaya government suspended operations for want of high-powered pumps to flush out water from the illegal pit on December 25.
Initially, there wasn't much help from villagers and locals, leading to further delay in rescue operations.
"It took the police hours to locate the mine as the villagers feigned ignorance about the accident. They are afraid that mine owners might cause them harm. Some who consider mining to be their only means of livelihood fear police action may add to their woes," said Sylvester Nongtynger, the East Jaintia Hills superintendent of police, adding that he came to know about the accident from Rajabala MLA Azad Aman.
Four years after the National Green Tribunal ordered a ban on coal mining in Meghalaya, illegal practices continue unabated in the state, putting lives at risk every day.
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat-holes", as each just about fits one person.
According to government reports, the coal mining industry was among the biggest revenue earners for the state, generating about Rs 700 crore annually, prior to its ban in 2014.