Shillong, July 8: Thirty-nine days after five miners were trapped in a flooded coal mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district, the state government has called off the rescue operation due to incessant rainfall, an official said on Thursday.
After three bodies could be retrieved from inside the mine in mid-June, the district administration was forced to take the decision given the increasing water level at the illegal rat-hole mine due to continuous rainfall in the area for the past many days, the official said.
"Due to heavy rains, the water level rose inside the 152-metre-deep pit hampering diving operations in the mine shaft for the retrieval of bodies," deputy commissioner E Kharmalki told PTI. Since the suspension of the operation on Tuesday night, rescuers from the Indian Navy, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF0 and the Fire Services have left for their respective places of posting, the official said.
The team from the Indian Navy left the district on Wednesday. "Considering the onset of the monsoons, the diving teams are required for rescue operations elsewhere in the country," the deputy commissioner said. The services of the NDRF and SDRF have also been de-requisitioned with effect from Wednesday evening, he said. The rat-hole mine at Umpleng, about 20 km from Khliehriat, the headquarters of East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded trapping five migrant workers four from Assam and one from Tripura- after a dynamite explosion on May 30.
Six co-workers of the trapped miners escaped the tragedy as they were outside the mine at the time of the incident and they were escorted to their homes. The police had arrested the owner of the coal mine, Shining Langstang, and charged him with violation of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order banning unscientific mining and transportation of coal.
"The 'Sordar' (mine manager) is on the run and a lookout notice has been issued since he was the one who brought the workers from Assam and Tripura to work in the illegal mine," a senior police officer had said. In 2018, a similar accident had taken place at Lumthari in the same district, about 20 km away from the coal mine at Umpleng. Hazardous rat-hole coal mining is not permitted in Meghalaya after the NGT banned it in 2014. A deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found in the rat-hole mining. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal line of the coal seams.