Shillong, December 27: Two teams of a private pump manufacturing company, which has volunteered to provide equipment to drain out water from the rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya where 15 diggers have been trapped for nearly a fortnight, arrived at the site Thursday.
Rescuers from the Indian Air Force and Coal India are expected to reach the mine in East Jaintia Hills district Friday.
Superintendent of Police Sylvester Mongtynger said two teams from Kirloskar Brothers Ltd arrived Thursday to help in rescuing the miners trapped in the 370-foot-deep illegal mine.
“We are deeply concerned about the trapped miners in Meghalaya and are ready to help in whichever way possible. We are in touch with the officials of the Government of Meghalaya to offer our assistance in this regard,” Kirloskar Brothers Ltd said in a statement late Wednesday night.
Indian Air Force spokesperson Ratnakar Singh said the National Disaster Management Authority has requested the IAF to airlift rescuers from Bhubaneswar to either Guwahati or Shillong airport Friday.
Sources in Coal India Ltd said Thursday officers and surveyers are on their way to the site.
A senior government official said they will assess the situation including the road condition leading to the mine in a remote area in the district and accordingly report to their office, which will then take a call on what equipment are required to launch a rescue operation.
The search-and-rescue operation was suspended on Saturday after water pumped out of the mine did not lead to a drop in the water level.
On Thursday, the National Disaster Response Force contradicted media reports which quoted it as saying that the trapped minors were suspected to be dead on the basis of the “foul odour” the force’s divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine.
The NDRF battalion based in Guwahati, which is carrying out the rescue operation, said the statement of its Assistant Commandant Santosh Kumar Singh on “foul smell” had been “misinterpreted and he was misquoted as saying that foul odour could indicate that the miners were dead and the bodies are beginning to decompose.”
The NDRF explained the foul smell could be of the stagnant water.
“The fact is that the pumping process has been halted for more than 48 hours. The foul smell detected by the divers may be due to stagnant water. The same has been misinterpreted and newspapers quoted it saying the odour could indicate the miners are dead and bodies are beginning to decompose,” the statement issued by Commandant of Guwahati-based NDRF Battalion S K Shastri said.
He said two teams of NDRF are engaged in the search and rescue operation.
Meanwhile, sources said Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma discussed the incident with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi Thursday. The details of the meeting were not available.
Senior state minister Lakmen Rymbui and Disaster Management Minister Kyrmen Shylla are scheduled to visit the site on Thursday. The visit comes after the Opposition Congress accused the ruling coalition and Sangma of being insensitive to the plight of the miners.
Meghalaya is ruled by NPP-BJP coalition.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help rescue the miners. He had also attacked him, saying while Modi was strutting on a bridge, the trapped miners were struggling for air.
Congress party sources said a group of MLAs have scheduled their visit to the mine in Lumthari village Friday.
Rebuffing the charge of inaction, Chief Minister Sangma told a television channel, “It’s not the time to play politics. There is no question of calling off the operation. The operation is going to go to a different level now.”
He said the Home Ministry is in touch and helping the state.
The National Green Tribunal has banned unsafe coal mining in Meghalaya since 2014 based on a petition by an NGO, which had alleged that a river in Assam had become acidic due to unregulated mining of coal. But illegal mining continue in the state, putting lives at risk, say locals.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted on the accident Thursday.
“Have been speaking to Sanjay Kirloskar, chief of @KBLPumps, about helping in the crisis in Meghalaya. He has rushed a team to assess the actual needs: what kind of pumps would best work in local conditions. meanwhile his pumps used for the #KeralaFloods cld be diverted if suitable (sic),” he said in a tweet.
In another tweet he said, “2 things are clear: (1) request has come unconscionably late. Govt seems to have been v.slow off the block. (2) We need better preparations & standby equipment for water-related disasters, whether floods or rains. The National Disaster Relief Force should have pumps at the ready”. (PTI)