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EXPLAINER | Five Miners Trapped in Meghalaya Mine in Grim Reminder of December 2018 Tragedy

Search and rescue operations for the 5 miners underway at the coal mine in East Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. (PTI Photo)

Search and rescue operations for the 5 miners underway at the coal mine in East Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. (PTI Photo)

On the night of May 30, at least five miners were trapped inside a coal mine in Meghalaya's Sutnga Elaka after a dynamite explosion.

Five miners remain trapped for the past 12 days inside an illegal coal mine at Krem Ule in Umpleng, East Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya. The incident is a dreadful redux of the 2018 tragedy when at least 15 miners died due to the unscientific method of ‘rat-hole’ mining.

The Navy has been called to rescue the five labourers, who fell into the illegal coal mine that flooded after a dynamite explosion, however, they have been waiting for the water level to come down to an extent to start the operations inside.

ALSO READ | Meghalaya Seeks Navy’s Help to Rescue Miners Trapped in East Jaintia Hills

Developments in Umpleng Accident so far

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- On the night of May 30, at least five miners were trapped inside a coal mine in Sutnga Elaka after a dynamite explosion.

- Six co-workers of the trapped miners escaped the tragedy as they were outside the mine at the time of the incident and they have been escorted to their homes in Assam. East Jaintia Hills district deputy Commissioner E Kharmalki said that family members of the trapped miners from Assam visited the accident site and all help was extended to them.

- The rat-hole mine at Umpleng, about 20 km from Khliehriat, the headquarters of East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded after a dynamite explosion. Hazardous rat-hole coal mining is not permitted in Meghalaya after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014.

- So far, police have arrested the owner of the coal mine, Shining Langstang, and charged him for violation of the NGT order banning unscientific mining and transportation of coal. The mine manager aka Sordar is still on the run and a lookout notice has been issued since he was the one who is responsible for bringing illegal migrant workers from Assam and Tripura to work at the mine.

- Meghalaya has sought help from the Indian Navy as the rescue operation hasn’t made any headway so far.

- At least 100 rescuers from the NDRF, SDRF, and the Fire Service, are camping at the accident site waiting for the water level to come down to about 10 meters in depth because that is the maximum water level in which they can operate.

- On June 3, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Thursday had said that the water level was about 46 metres from the bottom of the 152-metre-deep pit.

- The following day, the water level inside the coal mine rose by about 1 metre from the previously recorded depth due to heavy rainfall, impacting rescue efforts, an official said.

- A deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found in the rat-hole mining. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal line of the coal seams.

- At least five people have been identified by the district administration - four from Assam and one from Tripura - who are stuck somewhere inside the mine.

- A Navy official said on June 10 said that the dewatering process is on and the water level inside the vertical shaft of the coal pit has decreased to about 36.6 metre from 46 metre recorded on June 4.

- Around 60 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and various state agencies are waiting for the water level to come down to about 10 meters in the 152 metre- deep pit, as that is the maximum level in which they can work, a magistrate posted at the site at Umpleng told PTI. A total of 8.82 lakh litre of water has been pumped out of two interconnected shafts so far, the official said.

- Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said that the condition is difficult for the rescuers and efforts to reach the trapped miners are making little progress. “The conditions are very difficult out there. We have not come out with positive results as of now," Sangma told reporters.

Recalling the Ksan Incident of December 2018

Only three bodies were retrieved from inside the mine in a joint effort by the Navy, Army, and the NDRF, and seven months after a futile search for the bodies of over 15 miners who were trapped in the mine, the operations were called off. Another coal mine in the South Garo Hills district had flooded in 2012 and locals had claimed that 15 labourers had died but their bodies were not found.

Thirteen days after the incident, all that was left inside the labourers’ tents — just a few metres from where they worked and are feared to have died — are a few broken egg shells, dirty old slippers, empty plastic bottles and a layer of black coal on the soil.

Meghalaya Police’s online records reveal that from April 2014 to November in 2018, there were at least 477 reported violations of the NGT orders. Illegal coal mining, illegal transportation of coal and transportation of coal beyond the permissible limit are among the violations that have led to the arrest of several miners and owners, as well as seizing of many trucks.

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first published:June 11, 2021, 12:16 IST