Shillong, June 18: Rescuers on Thursday were unable to retrieve a "suspicious object", likely to be the body of a miner, due to the accumulation of debris at the bottom of the flooded 152-metre-deep coal pit in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district where five people have been trapped since May 30, an official said.
Divers of the Indian Navy and NDRF had retrieved a body on Wednesday and as of now, no one has come forward to identify it and information has been sent to family members of the trapped miners, district deputy commissioner E Kharmalki told PTI.
"The Navy divers could not retrieve the suspicious object today as it is trapped in the debris inside the main shaft. The divers returned to the ground at around 2.45 pm and will resume the exercise tomorrow," Kharmalki said. The Navy on Tuesday had detected two "objects", which they suspected to be the bodies of the miners.
As the dewatering process was on using 10 high-powered pumps, the water level at the main shaft had receded by a little over 6 metres just before the Navy divers resumed their operations on Thursday, the deputy commissioner said. The water level was first recorded to be 46 metres deep but subsequently, it went down to 34 metres and it receded to 28 metres on Thursday.
Dewatering will continue from the main shaft and a nearby shaft that are interconnected at the coal seams till the water level comes down to 10 metres at which the divers can safely operate, a magistrate at the site told PTI. About 3.24 lakh litres of water has been pumped out from the main shaft and around 7.20 lakh litres of water has been taken out from the second shaft, he said.
A team of 13 personnel of the Navy last week joined the rescue teams of the NDRF, SDRF and the Fire Services deployed at the accident site. Using their ROV, a remotely operated search vehicle deployed in deep waters, the Indian Navy had in 2019 pulled out three bodies from another coal mine in Lumthari area of the same district.
The two accidents in East Jaintia Hills district involving the lives of local miners and those from Assam and Tripura are proof that illegal mining is operating with total impunity from those in governance, senior Opposition leader Ampareen Lyngdoh said.
"Two accidents are too much. We do not want a third or a repeat of the first two unless the issue of miners safety and environment protection are addressed," she said. The NGT had in 2014 banned unscientific rat-hole coal mining and transportation for the miners' safety and environmental protection.
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. Six co-workers of the trapped miners escaped the tragedy as they were outside the mine at the time of the incident and they have been escorted to their homes in Assam.
The police arrested the owner of the coal mine, Shining Langstang, and charged him with violation of the 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 migrant workers from Assam and Tripura to work in the illegal mine, a senior police officer said.
Based on the account of the survivors, an FIR was registered.