The Supreme Court sought to know from the relatives of miners, who were trapped in an illegal mine in Meghalaya three months ago, whether they want to recover the bodies which might have been "decomposed" by now.
A total of 15 miners were trapped on December 13 last year in an illegal coal mine at Ksan in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, about 3.7 km deep inside a forest, when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it.
Only two bodies have been recovered from the mine so far.
The top court is hearing a plea which had sought urgent steps for rescuing the miners trapped in the rat-hole mine.
A bench of Justices SA Bobde and SK Kaul told the petitioner to ask the family members of the trapped miners as to whether they want to get the bodies recovered.
"The petitioner is directed to ascertain from the relatives of the deceased if they wish to have the bodies recovered having regard to the fact that they may be already in a completely decomposed condition," the bench said in its order.
The top court also directed Dr Sudhir Kumar, Hydrologist of Roorkee's National Institute of Hydrologist to visit the site and after re-appraisal, submit a report pointing out if pumping of water being done there for de-watering is adequate.
"The hydrologist may also suggest what needs to be done in the future for recovering the bodies," the bench said, and posted the matter for further hearing in first week of April.
Last month, the court had said high-powered pumps of Kirloskar company be airlifted and installed immediately for de-watering of the mine.
It had also issued a show-cause notice to the mine owner saying it would consider granting compensation to the family members of the victims as prime facie responsibility and liability of the mishap is of the mine owner.
The Meghalaya government had earlier told the court that 11 crore litre of water was pumped out from the mine between February 8 and 16 but water was getting replenished from the nearby river due to the topography there.
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person.