At least two miners were killed when an illegal coal mine collapsed in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills, police officials said on Sunday. The incident comes amid a tottering rescue attempt in the same district, where for the last 25 days authorities have been unable to reach a group of miners trapped in a different "rat-hole" coal mine.
The latest incident took place at Mooknor, Jalyiah village, about 5 km from the district headquarters. Authorities in the remote mountain region came to know of the incident after a relative of one of the miners, identified as 26-year-old Elad Bareh, went to the police saying that he had been missing from his home since Friday.
"A search was conducted and his body was found in front of a 'rat-hole' coal mine. When we further checked inside the narrow mine, another body was found. The second man was identified as Monoj Basumatry," Sylvester Nongtnger, a senior police officer said.
"It is suspected that boulders hit them when they tried to extract coal," Mr Nongtnger said, adding that efforts are on to find out the owner of the illegal mine.
Meanwhile, rescue operations to evacuate the 15 miners trapped at a mine in Ksan village were held up after the high-capacity pumps of Kirloskar Brothers Limited and Coal India Limited encountered technical snags on Sunday, an official said.
However, the firefighting team from Odisha continued to drain out water from the two nearby coal mines, rescue operations spokesperson Reginald Susngi told news agency IANS.
For nearly a week, rescuers have been struggling to pump out water from the 370-foot-deep pit, further dimming chances of the miners' survival.
Water gushed into the mine after at least 15 miners went down the narrow pit on December 13. Rat-hole mines killed thousands of workers in Meghalaya before India's environmental court banned the practice in early 2014.
The slow progress in the rescue efforts has been contrasted with the dramatic rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach from a flooded cave in July last year, which drew a massive international audience.
(With inputs from agencies)