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SC for prompt and effective action to rescue miners

'When you can send people to Thailand for rescue operations, why can’t you do it now?' apex court asks Union government

By Our Legal Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 3.01.19, 11:37 PM
  • Updated 3.01.19, 11:37 PM
  • 2 mins read
The Supreme Court: 'Every minute counts' for those trapped in the mine for almost three weeks Telegraph file picture

The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over the tardy efforts made so far to rescue the 15 miners trapped in a Meghalaya coal mine and directed the Centre to place by Friday a status report on their fate, saying, “We pray to God that all are alive”.

It said a “prompt, immediate and effective” operation was needed as it was a matter of life and death and that “every minute counts” for those trapped in the mine for almost three weeks.

The miners were trapped in the mine near Lumthari village in Ksan area in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya on December 13, 2018, after water from the Lytein river gushed in, flooding the mine.

A bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Abdul Nazeer passed the direction after noting that though the miners were trapped, their fate was not yet known.

“We do not know whether they are dead or alive. We only pray to God that all are alive… it is not a question of day or hours, every minute is precious. No matter whether they are all dead, not dead or all are alive, they should be taken out,” the bench observed while posting the matter for further hearing to Friday by which time the Centre has to file details of the steps taken for rescuing the miners.

Justice Sikri, who headed the bench, asked the Meghalaya government why it had so far failed to requisition the services of the army despite news reports suggesting that it had volunteered its expertise.

A counsel appearing for the Meghalaya government informed the court that personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the navy and Coal India were working round-the-clock to rescue the miners. But the bench was not satisfied with the reply and sought a report from the Centre.

The bench told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, “As the Union, you should do something now. Either you take the help of army, which has not been done yet. They (army) are ready and they have volunteered also.”

“When you can send people to Thailand for rescue operations, why can’t you do it now?” Justice Sikri asked the government.

Mehta told the bench that the NDRF was working at the site and instead of the army, the government has sent navy personnel as the mine was submerged.

“Seventy-two members of NDRF are already there but still no result,” the bench observed, adding, “Why can’t you take help of the army? He (petitioner) says water pumps were sent to Thailand. Why cannot it (pumps) be used here also?”

The court passed the directions while dealing with a PIL criticising the Centre for failing to rescue the Meghalaya miners though it had in June last year offered to help the government of Thailand to rescue a 12-member football team trapped in a cave.

The petition was filed by a Delhi-based advocate, Aditya N. Prasad, last month on the basis of news reports that 15 miners were believed to have been trapped in a mine in Meghalaya.

The petitioner urged the court to pass all requisite directions to the Union and Meghalaya governments to ensure that all equipment required for the rescue of the miners are provided.

The bench initially wanted to record in writing that the authorities had failed to carry out the necessary rescue operations due to lack of coordination between the Centre and Meghalaya but refrained from passing any adverse observations on Mehta’s plea.