The families of 15 miners trapped inside a flooded "rat-hole" mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills have lost all hope of ever seeing them alive again. Their fears are justified -- it's been 21 days since they first entered the pit, and rescue workers are nowhere near flushing it out yet.
Krishna Limbu said it was unlikely that even a miracle would save his brother-in-law, 21-year-old Assh Bahadur Limbu. "I just wish that they retrieve the bodies for us to perform the last rites," he added.
Rescue Operations spokesperson Reginald Susngi claimed that Odisha firefighters on the scene had taken out 7.20 lakh litres of water in a period of six hours on Wednesday. He said that while the water level in one of the subsidiary shafts had receded by 1.4 feet, the measure for the main shaft can be taken only by Indian Navy divers.
The divers found a wooden structure, besides chunks of coal, inside the flooded mine. They have requested further draining of the mine so that divers can dive to the bottom of the 370-feet pit. The Coal India Limited will put a high-capacity submersible pump, capable of pumping out 500 gallons (1,892 litres) of water per minute, into operation from Thursday.
India's leading pump manufacturer, Kirloskar Brothers, has also joined in with four specialised high-capacity dewatering pumps. Company project manager N Mahapatra said their engineers are currently engaged in installing the equipment, after which the draining operation will be launched. Incidentally, Kirloskar Brothers were roped in by the Thailand government to rescue 12 footballers and their coach from a flooded cave in June last year.
However, Jaswant Singh Gill -- mining expert and award-winning rescuer -- expressed disappointment over the pace at which the rescue operation was progressing. "There is no coordination at all. The safety of human lives is paramount. In this kind of an emergency situation, we expect rescuers to function like a well-oiled machine," he said.
Mr Gill also spoke on the need for a proper mining map to know how water has entered the pit. "There are many flooded coal mines that are lying abandoned and those boys (the trapped miners) accidentally punctured the wall of another abandoned mine."
The victims had been mining in the West Jaintia hills in violation of a National Green Tribunal order for an "interim ban" in 2014. The mine collapsed on December 13, and rescue operations were launched the next day.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma promised "appropriate action at an appropriate time" against the people involved in illegal mining.
(With inputs from IANS)