Two coal miners were killed after another illegal coal mine collapsed in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills even as the fate of 15 miners, trapped inside a flooded coal pit, remained uncertain, an official said on Sunday.
The fresh accident at Mooknor, Jalyiah village, about 5 km from the district headquarters in East Jaintia Hills, came to the fore after one Philip Bareh filed a report that his nephew Elad Bareh (26) had been missing from his home since Friday.
"A search was conducted and his body was found in front of a 'rat-hole' coal mine. When we further checked inside the narrow mine, another body was found. THe second man was identified as Monoj Basumatry," Sylvester Nongtnger, district police chief, told media.
"It is suspected that boulders hit them when they tried to extract coal," Nongtnger said, adding that efforts are on to find out the owner of the illegal mine.
An inquest was conducted and the dead bodies were forwarded for autopsy.
Meanwhile, rescue operations to evacuate the 15 trapped coal miners at Ksan village were partially affected after the high-capacity specialized dewatering pumps of Kirloskar Brothers Limited and Coal India Limited encountered technical snags on Sunday, an official said.
"Pumping machines of Kirloskar and CIL have been stopped for the time being because of some technical problem. The pumps will be restored soon," said rescue operations spokesperson, Reginald Susngi.
However, he said Odisha firefighters continued to drain out water from the two abandoned coal mines.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered an interim ban on "rat-hole" coal mining in the state in April, 2014.
The Supreme Court also expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome of the rescue operations at Ksan coal mine.
THe accident has evoked sharp reactions. Former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has said illegal mining activities in Jaintia Hills were carried out due to the greed of the people in power.
"This is the outcome of the extreme greed of the people in power. The image of the state built over te years has suffered badly," Sangma told journalists.
On penalty imposed by the NGT, the leader of Opposition said, "The people of the state cannot pay for the greed of some power-hungry people. I am afraid the state is going to pay a heavy price because of the greed of these people."
He also lashed out at Chief Secretary Y Tsering and other senior government officers for being "silent spectators" to illegal mining. "They are succumbing to their political bosses, though it is their job to protect the interest of the people and the state," Sangma said.