New Delhi: As 15 miners in Meghalaya continue to be trapped inside a flooded coal mine, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma was in Delhi to apprise the central government of the situation and request more assistance and equipment.
While Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for strutting about on Bogibeel Bridge “posing for cameras” in the neighbouring Assam, Sangma told CNN-News 18's Uday Singh Rana that he was not disappointed by the Centre's response. The situation, he said, was simply very difficult.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: It's been over two weeks since the 15 miners have been trapped. What's the reason for this delay?
Conrad Sangma: You have to see the background of how this happened. When they were carrying out this illegal mining, they must have hit the rock. So the entire river entered the mines. That's a lot of water. Almost 12 lakh litres of water has been pumped out. Despite that, the water level only rose. The day this happened, we contacted MoS Home Kiren Rijiju and requested him for maximum help. The NDRF came in full force and got their best drivers. It's not like work hasn't taken place. But the situation is much more extreme than anyone thought.
Q: You had asked the Central government for assistance in getting equipment but help hasn't quite come. Is that why you're in Delhi?
Conrad Sangma: There were many options put on the table. One of them was to get 15 or 20 100 horsepower pumps. But you see, this isn't an easy task. Even big organisations have only 5 or 6 of these pieces, so the number one challenge is to mobilise all those resources. My trip to Delhi was anyway scheduled for this time. Since I'm here, I'll take up this matter also.
Q: Your government has been accused of apathy. Why is it that neither you, nor any member of your cabinet has gone to the ground to monitor the rescue ops?
Conrad Sangma: I've been monitoring the rescue operations on almost a daily basis. That is the reason we know what's happening at the grassroots level. The efforts are on in full swing. But the water level is so extreme that it's creating problems for us.
Q: Illegal mining is rampant in Meghalaya. Has your government ignored the problem?
Conrad Sangma: Coal mining has been banned in Meghalaya technically. In fact, it’s a situation which has been going on for a long time. Right now there is an effort by Government of India and Government of Meghalaya to make sure this is regulated to a much larger degree. It’s possible to stop one or two people, but it's much more difficult to map this issue and track everything that is happening when things are happening in the far corners. The most logical way to move forward is to regulate this, otherwise illegal activities will go on. This location is in a constituency represented by a Congress MLA, so I've told all leaders and parties to ensure that they tell us if they know of any such activity taking place.
Q: The entire nation is praying for the miners. You've announced Rs 1 lakh compensation for the families of the miners, but it's not compensation for death. Are you still holding out hope that they're alive?
Conrad Sangma: Yes, we are holding out hope. This is just interim relief, but it is obviously not enough for a person's life. We have just given what we thought is adequate for now. We are still hoping that we'll be able to find them alive. We are hoping we will get bigger equipment soon. That includes lifting those pumps to the location, using the generators to power them. It's not as simple as a lot of people may think.
Q: Are you disappointed with the response of the Central Government?
Conrad Sangma: No, not at all. We've been given support. The NDRF has been sent in full force, as I said. It's just that the situation is very tough.