Shillong, July 10: Meghalaya police, along with the South Garo Hills district administration, have mounted rescue operations to try and save 15 labourers trapped inside a coal mine close to Nangalbibra since last week.
According to information received from South Garo Hills, 15 labourers are still trapped inside the mine at Nengkol in the Rongsa Awe area of Nangalbibra region since Friday afternoon. The chances of their survival appear grim.
Baghmara, the district headquarters of South Garo Hills, is around 480km from this capital city. It takes nearly three hours to drive to Nangalbibra from Baghmara. The coal mines are located about 10km from Nangalbibra.
“On Friday, around 12.30pm, 30 labourers were engaged in excavation in a coal mine belonging to the nokma of Rongsa Awe. The manager, Kuldeep Singh, was advised by the local people to refrain from engaging his labourers in the excavation work in view of the monsoon,” R.P. Marak, additional district magistrate of South Garo Hills, told this correspondent.
Singh, however, asked the labourers to undertake the excavation, Marak said. In the process, 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, submerging them inside the mine, he added.
Of the 30 labourers, 15 managed to escape while the other 15 are still trapped inside. Most of these labourers are believed to be hailing from Assam’s Dhubri district.
“Rescue operations are still on and we are trying to pump the water out of the mine. In the meantime, we have registered a case against Singh,” Marak said.
Asked whether there were any chances of survival for those trapped inside, the official said, “The situation is very grim. We are trying our best to rescue them.”
Ten years ago, a similar incident had occurred in Garo hills when 30 people had died after water surged in from an abandoned mine, drowning the labourers inside the mine.
In another accident, a coal labourer lost his life while several others were injured while mining coal in a mine in Nangalbibra on Sunday.
The heavy machinery that was engaged to draw the extracted coal buckled after its cables snapped, plunging the machine’s crane into the deep pit where the labourers were operating. While one of the labourers died, another eight sustained grievous injuries.
Like in Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills, coal is being unscientifically mined in the Garo hills region.
The present system of mining of coal is popularly known as “rat-hole mining” as the labourers go underground to extract the mineral with locally available equipment.
Moreover, after abandoning their mines following exhaustion of the mineral, owners do not cover the pits. This, in turn, poses a grave danger to the uninitiated. Friday’s incident is a case in point.
Meghalaya is still awaiting the implementation of the mining policy, which, among others, seeks to address issues related to such unscientific methods of mining the “black gold”.