Owner of Meghalaya coal mine held, 5 still trapped inside

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(Eds: Minor edits in intro, additional inputs ) Shillong, June 3 (PTI) The owner of an illegal coal mine in Meghalaya's in East Jaintia Hills district, in which five miners remain trapped for four days, has been arrested, a police officer said on Thursday.

The owner, Shining Langstang, was arrested from Sutnga village near the mine.

The rat-hole mine at Umpleng, about 20 km from Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills District, was flooded after a dynamite explosion on Sunday.

Hazardous rat-hole coal mining is not permitted in Meghalaya after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned it in 2014.

A deep vertical shaft is dug till coal seams are found in the rat-hole mining. Once the seams are found, coal is taken out through small holes along the horizontal line of the coal seams.

'The Sordar (mine manager) is on the run and we are trying to arrest him. In this regard, a lookout notice has been issued and his posters have been put up throughout the district,' Superintendent of Police Jagpal Singh Dhanoa told PTI.

A statement issued by Meghalaya police on May 31 had said, 'The main culprit as per eye-witnesses is 'Sordar' (manager) of the mine who did nothing to rescue the trapped labourers and chased the survivors away'.

Based on the account of the survivors, an FIR was registered at Khliehriat (dstrict headquarters) police station, the SP had said.

Though joint operations by personnel of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the fire service were on Thursday bolstered by a 24-member National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, the divers could not make any headway due to the water level in the main vertical shaft, an official said.

At least five miners have been identified by the district administration - four from Assam and one from Tripura -who are stuck somewhere in the mine.

The SP said, six co-workers of the trapped persons who had a miraculous escape as they were outside the mine have been escorted to their homes in Assam.

However, the district administration has registered a case against the survivors as they were also allegedly involved in illegal mining, the SP said.

The survivors will not be arrested if they comply with police orders to appear as and when necessary, he said.

East Jaintia Hills district deputy commissioner E Kharkmalki said, 'Today NDRF team has confirmed that water level is 150 feet in the main vertical shaft which is not conducive for rescue operations.

'As of now, more water pumps should be put into action to lower the water level. Additional water pumps will be used tomorrow,' he said.

A magistrate posted at the accident site said none of the trapped miners could be located as the water level is too high for rescue divers to enter the mine.

Rescuers on Wednesday had tried to reach out to the miners with hooks, ropes, and a crane but the efforts were in vain.

Silchar Superintendent of Police in Assam had informed the authoriies here about the possible trapping of six labourers from Assam in the mine accident on May 30.

Leader of Opposition Mukul Sangma on Wednesday held the state government responsible for the incident and alleged that illegal coal mining operates with complete impunity across Meghalaya.

The Umpleng accident is similar to one in which an illegal rat-hole mine in Ksan area of the same district was flooded on 13 December 2018.

Only three bodies were retrieved from inside the mine in a joint effort by the Navy, Army, and the NDRF, and seven months after a futile search for the bodies of over 15 miners who were trapped in the mine, the operations were called off.

Another coal mine in the South Garo Hills district had flooded in 2012 and locals had claimed that 15 labourers had died but their bodies were not found. PTI JOP MM MM

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