With 15 miners stuck in a flooded "rat-hole" coal mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills for nearly two weeks, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma admitted on Wednesday that they had to halt operations to pump out water from the mine due to the non-availability of high-power pumps. He, however, added that the state is in the process of acquiring these high-power pumps for the rescue operations.
"The situation right now is very difficult. Almost the entire river came into the mine. 12 lakh litres of water have been pumped out but the water level is rising," Mr Sangma told NDTV.
Sources in Coal India say their experts, technicians and high-power pumps have been mobilised.
The operation needs going deep into 70-feet water. Divers of the National Disaster Response Force or NDRF can only go up to a depth of 40 feet, officials explained. And so, without the pumps to drain out water, it will be impossible to resume the rescue effort.
Water is seeping into the mine from two sources, the river nearby and another abandoned mine in the area.
While two low-capacity pumps were used initially, eight more were brought in the following days. All of them were ineffectual in pumping out water. Experts say at least 10 pumps of 100 horsepower each will be required for the task.
The main opposition in the state, Congress, has attacked the chief minister and his government over what they claim is "sloppy attitude" of handling a crisis.
"We raised the issue of illegal coal mining in assembly but the chief minister had been very adamant, he did not accept it... after this incident he admitted," said Zenith Sangma, former Congress minister and party spokesperson.
"It's not the time to play politics. There is no question of calling off the operation. The operation is going to go to a different level now. The Home Ministry is in touch and helping us. We will continue trying and give more efforts," Mr Sangma said.
Mining was banned in mineral-rich Meghalaya in 2014 after people said it was polluting water bodies. But the practice continues with locals illegally extracting coal using dangerous "rat-hole" mines, which means digging into the side of hills and then burrowing horizontal tunnels to reach a coal seam.