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Meghalaya mine rescue operations, a question of “life and death”

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Concerns have been raised over the progress of rescue operations of trapped miners in a 370 ft deep coal mine in Meghalaya (India). The miners were trapped when the nearby Lytein river gushed in, puncturing the so-called rat-hole mine wall.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi described it as a “very serious” issue and noted that it was a question of “life and death”.

The Supreme Court was responding to a plea seeking urgent steps by the centre and state government to rescue the fifteen miners who have been trapped in the illegal coal mine since 13 December.

Rat-hole mining was banned in 2014. But according to the BBC, it is still widely practised across the state, especially in the East Jaintia Hills where the men are trapped.

The plea sought authorities to prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) for rescue operations in mining. Some have questioned why heavy-duty pumps by companies such as Kirloskar Brothers were not being utilised for rescue operations.

A former miner at Meghalaya coal mine, Abdul Alim, believes the job would have killed him had he stayed. His two cousins, Omor and Shirapat Ali, are among those trapped.

"Once we went down, there was hardly any light streaming in from above," he recalls. "The mines I had worked in earlier were only about 30 ft (9 m) deep. But this was far more dangerous." It was nearly 400 ft deep.”

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