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Dissatisfied with Meghalaya govt steps to rescue miners, need urgent ops, says SC

Dissatisfied with Meghalaya govt steps to rescue miners, need urgent ops, says SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Meghalaya government to rescue 15 miners trapped in an illegal coal mine since December 13, saying "prompt, immediate and effective" operation is needed to rescue them as it was a matter of life and death. "Every minute counts" for those trapped there for almost three weeks, it said.

A bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, to apprise it by Friday the steps which the government intends to take in the matter.

"For people who are trapped there, every minute counts," the bench said. "Immediate steps are needed".

"As the Union, you should do something now. Either you take the help of Army, which has not been done yet. They (Army) are ready and they have volunteered also," the bench told Mehta.

The rat-hole mine, atop a hillock fully covered with trees in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills district, was flooded when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it, trapping 15 miners.

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person.

During the hearing, the Solicitor General told the bench that several members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were working at the site and instead of the Army, the government has sent Navy personnel there as the mine was submerged in water.

"72 members of NDRF are already there but still no result," the bench observed, adding, "Why cannot you take help of the Army? He (petitioner) says that water pumps were sent to Thailand. Why cannot it (pumps) be used here also?".

The petitioner has said in his plea that Kirloskar Brothers Ltd (KBL) had offered high-powered water pumps and given technical support to the Royal Thai government in June-July 2018 for the operation to rescue a football team trapped inside a cave system in Thailand.

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