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Rescue efforts on in Meghalaya
15 miners still untraced

Workers being lowered into the mine at Nengkol in South Garo Hills on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, July 12: The fate of the 15 labourers trapped inside a coal mine in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district since last week remained unknown till tonight though personnel of the National Disaster Response Force worked overtime to rescue any possible survivors.

“There has been no progress so far though NDRF and district administration personnel have been pressed into service,” Meghalaya director-general of police N. Ramachandran told this correspondent over phone. South Garo Hills additional district magistrate R.P. Marak echoed the concern.

“It appears that an abandoned mine, adjacent to the one the miners are trapped in, is filled with water. There is every possibility of the accumulated water gushing into the other mine, making rescue operations difficult,” Ramachandran said.

Two Guwahati-based NDRF teams had reached Nengkol in the Rongsa Awe area of Nangalbibra region — from where it is 10km to the coalmines — last night.

Since morning, they have been exploring all possibilities of reaching out to the trapped miners with the district administration’s assistance. Nangalbibra is a three-hour drive from the district headquarters of Baghmara, which is around 480km from here. The coal mine where the labourers are trapped belongs to the nokma of Rongsa Awe, Kudon A. Sangma.

The local people had reportedly advised mine developer Gurdeep Singh to stop mining in view of the monsoon, but he allegedly asked the labourers to go ahead. Around 12.30pm on Friday, the labourers accidentally hit into a wall of an abandoned mine that was filled with gallons of water.

They were unable to cap the hole as water gushed out and submerged the mine they were working in. While 15 labourers managed to escape, 15 were trapped inside.

South Garo Hills police have arrested three persons — Sangma, Singh and the labourers’ sirdar or “captain”. Singh’s helper, identified as Vashith, is absconding.

In a similar incident in Garo hills 10 years ago, 30 labourers had died after water surged in from an abandoned mine. Coal is unscientifically mined in Garo hills, Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills by a process known as “rat-hole mining” whereby labourers go underground to extract the black gold.

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