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Air Force plane with 20 powerful pumps enroute Meghalaya for rescue mission - Hindustan Times

A 21-member team of Odisha Fire Services will reach Meghalaya on Friday with high-powered dewatering pumps to assist local authorities in a fresh attempt to rescue the 15 miners, trapped in a flooded illegal coal mine in Ksan village of East Jaintia Hills district for the last fortnight.

With chances of their rescue becoming bleaker by the day, the Union ministry of home affairs on Thursday sought the help of Odisha Fire Services for sending its team of experienced professionals.

Director general of fire service and commandant general, home guards and director civil defence BK Sharma said the team led by chief fire officer Sukanta Sethi left on Friday morning in a special aircraft of the Indian Air Force with 20 high-power pumps.

“Each of the pumps can dewater 1,600 litres of water a minute and we hope the miners can be rescued. We are one of the few states that is experienced in handling such calamities. We could have gone much earlier, but the request from MHA came yesterday (Thursday),” said Sharma.

Watch:Rescue operations underway for 15 miners trapped in flooded Meghalaya mine

With time running out for the miners, the Odisha team could have left on Thursday evening but could not as the Shillong airport does not have night landing facilities.

This is the first time that the fire services team would test their skills in a coal mine filled with water. The fire services department has taken part in rescue operations in others states in the past as well.

In August this year, a team of 240 fire service personnel from Odisha had helped in the rescue operation of flood-affected people in Kerala. The team not just saved hundreds of people, including patients and disabled, they also rescued domestic animals like cows, goats and pets like dogs.

Read: Foul smell in mine as water stagnates, pumps will take ‘4 more days to arrive’

In 2014 too, the Odisha fire service personnel had earned praise for their commendable job in the relief and rescue operations in Andhra Pradesh during Cyclone Hudhud.

Efforts stepped up

The state government has been criticised for the tardy rescue operation in the Saipung area of the northeastern state due to the festive season. All that the rescue officials in Meghalaya have recovered so far are three helmets.

The efforts to pump out water from the mine stopped on Monday as the available machines were ineffective and stronger ones were needed.

A request for 10 pumps of 100 HP, survey teams to detect seepage and other assistance from state-owned Coal India was made by the district administration in a letter to the state government on December 20, but the corporation received the communication for assistance from Shillong only on December 26.

Read: Prime accused in Meghalaya activist Agnes Kharshiing’s assault surrenders

On Thursday, an assessment team from Kirloskar Pumps (KBL) in Kolkata arrived at the remote site on Thursday evening after a request by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, whose party is in the opposition in Meghalaya.

A Coal India team arrived in Shillong on Thursday and will visit the site on Friday for assessment. JK Borah, general manager, North Eastern Coalfields said “seven pumps have been mobilised by Coal India.” Officials said moving the other equipment to the site of the accident will take another three to four days.

Rescue teams at the site said that a foul smell emanating from the water on Wednesday reported by one of the divers was in all likelihood because of stagnation when the operation was suspended on Christmas Day.

“It has been fourteen days now. The chances of the trapped miners surviving are very slim,” acting additional district magistrate SS Syiemlieh said on Thursday.

The miners have been missing after the illegal coal mine they were digging collapsed on them in the coal-rich East Jaintia Hills, an area where illegal mining is rife and a National Green Tribunal ban on such activities has been in place for four years.

Meghalaya has nearly 640 million tonnes of coal reserves. Mining of coal by hand has been going on in Meghalaya for over 150 years, mostly for local use. Large-scale illegal and indiscriminate mining of the coal by private landowners and the local community started nearly three decades ago.

Also read: 15 miners trapped for 14 days, Coal India finally receives Meghalaya govt SOS

Most of these mines employ minors, some from neighbouring states and Nepal as well; the miners work many metres underground in unsafe conditions, mining coal with their bare hands.

This isn’t the first accident involving an illegal mine in the state.

In February 2014, four miners were killed when the walls of an illegal mine collapsed in Garo Hills. In December 2013, five miners died when the cable of the contraption which was carrying them down to an illegal mine in Jaintia Hills broke. In July 2012, 15 miners drowned in an illegal mine in Garo Hills when an underground stream flowing near the mine flooded it.

First Published: Dec 28, 2018 10:20 IST