SHILLONG, Dec 14 - Rescue efforts to locate the 13 coal miners trapped in an illegal rat-hole coalmine has been called off for the day and would resume tomorrow morning at 6.30 am.
SP of East Jaintia Hills, Sylvester Nongtynger said over the phone today from Khliehriat, the headquarters of East Jaintia Hills district, the NDRF and SDRF teams tried to reach the miners throughout the day, but without any luck.
“The rescue efforts have been called off for the day and would resume tomorrow in the morning. We are trying our best to locate the miners,” he added.
Meanwhile, the owner of the coal mine in which 13 miners are trapped has been indentified and the police have registered a case against him for carrying out illegal coal mining.
The police have identified the owner of the coal mine as one James Sohklein. “We have registered a case against him under different sections of the law. However, he has absconded,” Nongtynger said.
The district police chief said that illegal mining activities were being conducted in the mine. He added that the mine was a freshly dug one and Sohklein surreptitiously got the miners into it.
Coal mining is banned after a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in April 2014. However, the NGT gave a breather in its order that coal mined before the ban order can be transported.
This clause of the order has been taken advantage of by illegal coal miners and mining continued in the State mostly in Jaintia Hill district and the coal that was transported was shown as dug before the order.
In this illegal business, not just the miners, but also the police, bureaucrats and politicians are allegedly involved. The Supreme Court again gave a breather on December 4 and allowed coal dug before April 2014 to be transported till January 31 next year.
It’s been estimated that 1.76 lakh metric tonne of coal have been extracted before April 2014 and needs to be transported. However, the Chairman of the NGT constituted committee, Justice (retd) BP Kotoki found tell-tale evidence of freshly mined coal earlier last month during a visit to Jaintia Hills.
The committee also took the assistance of the North East Space Application Centre and found through satellite imagery of illegal coal mining activities going on in the State.
The issue of illegal coal mining syndicate was raised by social activist Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma who were grievously attacked by allegedly coal mafia in East Jaintia Hills last month.
Meghalaya has an estimated reserve of 640 million tonne of coal spread across mostly in Jaintia and Garo Hills districts. Royalty from coal formed a major contributor to the State exchequer till its ban.