Meghalaya government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the mining accident where at least five labourers are feared trapped inside an illegal coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district.
“We have constituted a magisterial inquiry into the matter and the report is awaited,” Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui told reporters on Tuesday. Three of the five missing persons have been identified as Abdul Karim from Boko, Assam Abdul Kalam from Barpeta, Assam and Shyamcharan Debbarma from Tripura. While the two unidentified persons are said to be from Silchar, Assam.
The incident came to light only after information was received from SP Silchar and after six persons came forward as eyewitnesses. Rymbui stated that the search and rescue operation teams from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Fire Brigade and police are presently stationed at the coal mine which is located under Umpleng AD Camp in Sutnga Elaka.
“However, they cannot do anything but wait since the water level is high due to heavy rain. They will take a call on what needs to be done and what is the next step,” he added. Asked if the government foresees a Ksan-like search and rescue operation, the Home Minister said, “It is too premature for me to reply so let us wait for the full information.”
“Our priority is to get the man who allegedly has engaged these labourers. If we get hold of him, we will know the actual fact…if it has happened how many people (are trapped),” he added.
On the steps taken by the government to curb illegal mining of coal in the state, Rymbui said, “People may try to do whatever they may like but it is the duty of the government to see that it stops. The place of the incident is very far from the main road so it is very difficult for the police to be there.”
He informed that the police department has submitted a proposal to the state government for upgrading the anti-dacoity camp at Umpleng into a police outpost for better tackling of illegal activities.
“They have proposed to the government that this AD camp in Umpleng could be upgraded to an outpost so that manpower can be strengthened to oversee if there is any illegal mining and all. So the process is on (to consider the proposal),” he added.
He further assured that the police will go deep into this issue and ensure that action is taken against the people involved in the incident.
The opposition has demanded the immediate setting up of an independent inquiry to end the coal racket in the state. “There must be an immediate independent inquiry to go into the details of the illegalities that are going on in the state specifically for each district as it cannot be (one inquiry) for the whole state,” Leader of Opposition Dr. Mukul Sangma said.
He reiterated that a separate independent inquiry should be set up for each coal-rich district under Jaintia Hills, West Khasi Hills and Garo Hills regions.
Asked, the former chief minister said, “We will see that it happens, we will see that there is independent inquiry in respect of the illegal coal mining and all those who are perpetrators of this crime do not go scot-free.”
Expressing concern that precious lives have been lost in the East Jaintia Hills coal mine disaster, he said the opposition on a number of occasions has been trying to prevail upon the government and the leadership to crack a whip and stop all illegal Partner in the ruling NDA Government in Meghalaya, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reiterated its stand against the alleged ongoing illegal coal mining in the state.
“The BJP’s stand against illegal coal mining remains the same,” BJP leader and health minister Alexander Laloo Hek said.