Shillong, May 31: Six miners from Assam, allegedly involved in illegal rat-hole mining in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district, were feared trapped inside a coal mine after it collapsed, according to information received from the neighbouring state.
"Information has emanated from SP Silchar that 6 persons from Assam are trapped in a coal mine in EJ Hills. The mine has been identified at Sutnga interior, under Umpleng Anti-Dacoity camp, and search operations are on," Meghalaya Police posted on Twitter. The Silchar SP had stated that the incident took place on Sunday night. "The district police were able to identify the probable location of the spot at around 0600 hrs on May 31. The delay in identification of the probable site was due to inclement weather, poor night light condition, and non-availability of any eye-witness account," the East Jaintia HIlls district SP jagpal Dhanoa said in a statement.
Higher authorities have been apprised of the matter and a search and rescue operation has been launched. As per eye-witness(es) account, due to the sudden explosion of dynamite, five persons got trapped in the sudden rush of water into the mine, Dhanoa said. One person has been detained for questioning, he said. Since the man has tested COVID-19 positive, he has been kept at an isolation centre at Khliehriat, the SP said. "I have instructed the SP and DC to verify this claim made by people from Assam. I am not sure if illegal mining had taken place there," Disaster Management Minister and local MLA Shylla said.
Disaster management teams of the police and fire departments, besides service personnel of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), have been sent to the area, the minister said. "Since the coal mine identified by the Silchar SP is flooded, we have taken all required measures to ensure that the miners are alive," Shylla said.
Coal mining is not permitted in the state due to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on the activity in Meghalaya since 2014. The NGT ban came after a petition by Assams All Dimasa Students Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee had complained that due to rat-hole mining in the Jaintia Hills, the water in the Kopili river had turned acidic.
In the rat-hole mining process, a deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal line of the coal seams. At least 15 miners were trapped in a coal mine in the Ksan area of East Jaintia Hills on 13 December 2018. While five of them managed to escape, rescue efforts for the remaining 10 had continued till 2 March 2019.