Another decomposed body of a miner who died inside a flooded rat-hole mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills was found today, officials said. This is the second body to be recovered since rescuers started pumping out water from the illegal mine that collapsed on December 13 last year in the north-east state where coal mining is banned. Fifteen miners had gone down the dark shaft. None has been found alive 44 days after the tragedy.
"Indian Navy diving team finds second body 280ft inside the rat hole mine. First body was recovered yesterday," the Navy tweeted today.
Navy divers saw the body at 3 am with the help of an underwater remotely operated vehicle, a rescue officer told news agency IANS. "During their search, the Navy team also found spades and a wooden cart," said the official, who asked not to be named.
On Thursday, the decomposed body of a coal miner from Assam was brought to the surface after weeks of pumping out water from the shaft, where high water level had prevented divers from conducting a thorough search of the dark underwater labyrinth.
The body of the miner, Amir Hussain, was handed over to his family for last rites today.
Navy divers trying to locate the remains of trapped miners in the Meghalaya rat-hole coal mine
As the wait for finding survivors become longer and bleak, the desperate families of the missing miners have asked the authorities to do all they can to at least retrieve any remains for their last rites.
The divers have seen skeletons inside the mines through their remotely operated vehicles, though it is not clear if they are of the missing miners, say senior officials. The water inside the mines has high sulphur content that can decompose bodies very fast, they said.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had said that the search must continue as "miracles do happen". The top court told the centre and the Meghalaya government to consult experts and continue the efforts to rescue the miners.
The operation to rescue the trapped miners is one of the most challenging the National Disaster Response Force has seen, its commandant SK Sastri has told NDTV.
The National Green Tribunal banned coal mining in Meghalaya in 2014 after environmental activists complained it was responsible for severe water pollution. But the practice continues with locals illegally extracting coal using the dangerous "rat hole" mines.
The incident raises serious questions about unchecked coal mining in Meghalaya right under the government's nose even after the ban, environment activists and scientists say. Activists say the powerful coal mafia is taking advantage of a concession the NGT made of allowing old coal already extracted before 2014 to be transported.