Rescue operations were underway on Tuesday to trace at least five migrant workers from Assam and Tripura who were trapped inside a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia district, officials said.
The incident took place in Umpleng area on Sunday when water gushed in and inundated the mine after a dynamite explosion.
A manhunt has been launched to arrest the ''sordar'' (mine manager) who fled the scene and threatened others against talking about the incident, Superintendent of Police Jagpal Singh Dhanoa said.
One suspect has been detained but he tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently undergoing quarantine at a government facility at Khliehriat, he said.
As per the state government, four migrant labourers from Assam and one from Tripura are trapped in the mine.
However, Disaster Management Minister Kyrmen Shylla, who is also the local MLA, has asked the district deputy commissioner and SP to verify claims made by a person from Assam's Silchar that six people were trapped inside the mine.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Mukul Sangma held the state government responsible for the incident and alleged that illegal coal mining operates with complete impunity across Meghalaya.
"Never in the history of Meghalaya and NE India had such cartel operated with complete impunity engaging in illegal coal mining and illegal transportation and illegal transaction of such coal across the states -- robbing the states. Na khaunga, na khane dunga...kab hoga?" he tweeted.
The Congress leader had in the past raised the issue of illegal and unscientific mining and transportation of coal across the state.
"Illegality of this scale cannot happen without the patronage by the people in authority -- both illegal mining and illegal transportation go under the watch of the government," the former chief minister had said.
Congress leader Ampareen Lyngdoh also demanded to know "who profits from this system".
Although the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned unsafe and unscientific coal mining and transportation in 2014, another accident in Ksan area of the district in December 2018 had reportedly claimed the lives of more than 15 miners, of whom bodies of only three were retrieved.
Another coal mine in South Garo Hills district had flooded in 2012 and locals claimed 15 labourers were feared dead but none of their bodies were found.