Time is running out for 15 miners who are trapped in a flooded rat-hole coalmine in Meghalaya since December 13. It is a pity that the rescue operations gained momentum only after two weeks of the accident. A multi-agency operation is finally underway but given the complexity of the task, rescuers may take days to reach out to the trapped miners. Apart from the delay in galvanising resources what’s baffling is that the Odisha fire services team members, airlifted by the Indian Air Force (IAF), were seen posing for the cameras ahead of their departure when they should have been just rushing to the spot. Another disturbing aspect was the politics over the incident. Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that prime ninister Narendra Modi was busy showing off for cameras at the inauguration of Bogibeel Bridge in the northeast when the miners were struggling in the flooded coal-mine. Junior home minister advised Rahul Gandhi not to take political mileage out of an accident but at the same time reminded that illegal mining activities were promoted under the Congress rule. Unlike the Thailand cave rescue operation, earlier this year, when the whole world united to save the lives of the trapped children, India presented a divided picture. It’s only now that the naval divers have arrived at the scene ready to make their way inside the flooded mine. It is going to be a big challenge and delay of every minute will reduce the possibility of survival of trapped miners. The pumping out of water from the mine in East Jaintia Hills is expected to take at least a week. Pumps have arrived at the rescue site, but the teams were awaiting generators. The Indian navy and the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) divers entered the mine to find out the extent of flooding. The water from Lytein river had entered the cave trapping miners. The operation is also a test of India’s capabilities to deal with such accidents. The navy and NDRF divers can go deep inside, but there are several constraints like inundation and the narrow vertical mine. It took several days for the equipment to arrive and the football ground where the material was transported through air is around 40 km from the site. One can only hope that miners would be spotted, but every day will diminish their chances of survival. One of the survivors has painted a bleak picture saying chances of finding anyone alive were bleak. Of the 22 people who had gone into the mine, 5 managed to escape as the river water started gushing in. The rescuers have not been successful in locating the trapped miners so far. Another limitation is that while the depth of mine is said to be 370 feet, navy divers can go only till 100 feet. Thus one of the ways to reach out to the miners is by pumping water out. As the rescue operations get momentum one hopes that different agencies will coordinate seamlessly to prevent any further delays and in locating and rescuing the ill-fated miners.
The nation should unite to save the miners trapped in a rat hole