Its been 16 days now since 15 miners got stuck inside a flooded rat-hole mine in Meghalaya, but the wait for high powered pumps still continues. The NDRF team suspended the rescue operations on Monday, after the low-powered pumps being used to suck out water failed to rise to the occasion.
On Saturday, a team of officials from Coal India Limited (CIL) conducted a preliminary investigation on how to dewater an illegal 370-ft coal pit to rescue 15 miners trapped inside an illegal coal mine for 16 days now.
A 21-member team of fire fighters from Odisha, who was airlifted by Indian Air Force's C-130J Super Hercules from Bhubaneswar to the Guwahati airport, are proceeding towards the site at Ksan village in East Jaintia Hills district.
A 15-member diving team of the Indian Navy has also joined the rescue operation.
A 10-member CIL team, including four surveyors and six technical engineers, arrived at the site and conducted a preliminary inspection of the mining area.
"We first need to survey the entire mining area before pumping out the water from the pit. Our eight pumps of 100 HP each and other equipment are on the way," said General Manager of CIL's Northeastern Coalfields J Borah.
"The Odhisha firefighters were requisitioned by National Disaster Management Authority. They are on the way with several high-tech equipment, including 10 high-power pumps to be used in search and rescue operations," said district police chief of East Jaintia Hills Sylvester Nongtnger.
N. Mahapatra of Kirloskar Brothers' Limited said the team will submit its reports and recommendation to the district administration on how to dewater the pit.
"We require a good number of powerful pumps to suck out the water and this has been informed to our senior officials," Mahapatra told IANS.
Meanwhile, a six-member team of the opposition Congress in Meghalaya assembly on Friday visited the site and found several lacunae in the arrangements made by the district administration.
The legislators led by Ampareen Lyngdoh expressed their surprise over district magistrate F.M. Dopth going on leave in spite of the tragedy of such a scale.
"Precious lives are at stake but the officer in-charge of the rescue operations has been allowed to go on leave," she said, demanding that the district magistrate be immediately recalled.
Lyngdoh said the state government should task a senior-level officer with the rescue operations.
"A senior-level officer at the level of Commissioner and Secretary should be put in charge of the entire rescue operations and to coordinate with the national and state teams," she said.
They also demanded that an Inspector General of Police level officer should be deputed at the site to coordinate among the NDRF, SDRF and the state police. The legislators also said that a small medical team should be at hand 24x7.
The district administration has temporarily suspended pumping of water from the coal pit since December 24. However, the NDRF rescuer team dived inside the main shaft of the coal pit, but could not locate any of the miners.
"Our men dived this morning to locate the trapped miners, but could not find any of them. There is nothing in the main shaft of the coal pit. We have used all our equipment with us, including SONAR, to find out if any of the miners is trapped in the main shaft," said NDRF Assistant Commandant Santosh Kumar Singh.
Asked if the rescuers have lost hope, Singh said, "Rescuers never lose hope. We are all putting our best efforts to rescue them."
On Thursday, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal and sought immediate Central support to evacuate the trapped miners.
The accident inside the coal pit on December 13 morning occurred despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering an interim ban on 'rat-hole' coal mining in the state from 2014.
Coal mine accidents are common in the mountainous state because of unscientific mining procedure, commonly known as "rat hole mining".
(With inputs from agencies)