Efforts are on to rescue at least 13 people who got trapped in a "rat hole" coal mine in East Jaintia hills two days ago, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said on Friday.
This is not the first time when the labourers engaged in illegal mining of coal have been trapped in a mine; and the incident has yet again exposed the rampant illegal coal extraction in the state despite a ban ordered by the National Green Tribunal in April 2014.
The state government also admits to illegal mining. "The focus is on the rescue operations. We are concerned about the miners.The NDRF, district administration, and police are doing all that they can to save the lives of these miners. We admit to illegal mining in the area and will take action. This is not acceptable," Mr Sangma told NDTV.
Environmentalists have been fighting against the age-old practice of "rat-hole" mining.
Noted Meghalaya activist Agnes Kharshiing and her aide Amita Sangma were brutally attacked by suspected coal mafia gang in November. They were collecting evidence in the East Jaintia hills, a region seen as the hub of illegal coal extraction.
"Illegal coal mining has continued over the years despite 2014 ban. Last month, Ms Kharsiing and Amita Sangma were attacked brutally for exposing fresh coal mining. This incident was not only about transportation of coal, but also fresh extraction," said Angela Rangad, an activist.
Some environmentalists say there has been a spike in such attacks after the NPP-led government took over. In March, a youth leader and RTI activist was also murdered in the same area allegedly by coal mafia.