In the recent development in the Meghalaya Miners accident, the Indian Navy is called by the Meghalaya government to rescue the miners that are stuck in an illegal mine for the last 12 days. 5 laborers were reported missing since May 21. On May 30, the coal mine was flooded as a result of an explosion of dynamite.

Background

An illegal coal mine based in East Jaintia Hills got flooded following an explosion in May, due to which 5 coal mine workers, which included 4 from Assam and 1 from Tripura, got stuck. This was the second mine related incident in the East Jaintia Hills this year. In January 2021, 15 coal miners died in another coal mine accident. These miners were migrant workers from Assam.


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Details

In a bid to accelerate the rescue mission at the East Jaintia coal mine, the Meghalaya government has called for the help of Indian Navy. The development was confirmed by the Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma who said-

We have written to the Ministry of Defence to provide us Navy divers for assisting in the rescue operation.”

The National People’s Party leader also added that the Meghalaya government is exploring all possibilities to rescue the 5 miners.


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High Water Level Hampers Rescue Process

More than 100 rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and other disaster management related agencies are waiting for the water level to drop down further. Due to high water level, the rescue process is hampered.

While the water level has come down to some extend thanks to dewatering process, it still does not meet the threshold of 10 meters that is appropriate to carry forward with the relief work. According to Indian Express, an official from the relief work said how the dewatering process is still on and the water level has come down from 46 meter to 36.6 meter as of June 5.

For now, the NDRF and state wide relief work agencies are waiting for the water level to drop down to as low as 10 meters in the 150-meter plus coal pit. The maximum water level with which the relief work personnel can work is about 10 meters, according to PTI. So far, a whopping amount of water has already been pumped out (8.82 lakh liter).

CM Sangma also shared to the reporters about the challenges of the task.

“The conditions are very difficult out there. We have not come out with positive results as of now.”

It should be noted that rat-hole mining has been banned in the state since 2014 by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).


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What is rat-hole mining? Why is it banned?

The rat-hole mining is a way of mining out minerals in which small tunnels are dug. These tunnels are only 3-4 feet high and often children are made to extract minerals in such extractions. The NCT banned this way of digging and extracting minerals as it was deemed unscientific and unsafe for the miners. According to reports the state of Meghalaya has a coal reserves of 640 million tones.

Due to the rat-hole way of mining, the water sources of the Jaintia Hills have been found to have turned acidic in nature with high sulphate, iron concentration. Due to the dumping of the coal on the roadside, the way to mine has been cited as the source of increase in air and soil pollution.

Further, risks of mines caving in and getting flooded are increased as the mines branch into horizontal networks.


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Other Mining Accidents in Jaintia Hills

In January 2021, 6 miners were killed at a coal mine in the East Jaintia region. The 6 miners were migrant laborors from Assam and were digging a tunnel. Due to a machine malfunction, the tunnel broke apart and they died after falling 150 feet inside the mine.

In 2018, over 15 miners lost their lives in an “rat-hole” mining accident. The incident happened at Ksan region where the miners where digging a narrow tunnel to find the coal. The mine got flooded by a nearby river and soon the Navy, Army and NDRF personnel were called for the rescue. While 3 dead bodies were retrieved and the search for the bodies of over 15 other miners were called off after seven months of unsuccessful efforts.

After the unfortunate accident, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) fined the Meghalaya government a sum of Rs. 100 crores for illegal coal mining.