SC to hear PIL on trapped miners in Meghalaya tomorrow

The petition seeks the deployment of the Armed Forces and high capacity pumps to save the miners. It also seeks the formulation of a standard operating procedure for mine rescues

By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Wednesday 02 January 2019
Rat-hole Mines
A file photo of a miner in a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya. Credit: Monali Zeya Hazra/CSE A file photo of a miner in a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya. Credit: Monali Zeya Hazra/CSE

The Supreme Court (SC) on January 3, 2019, will hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue of the 15 miners trapped in an illegal rat-hole coal mine in the East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya. 

The petition, filed by advocate Astha Sharma and Aditya N Prasad, seeks the SC’s direction to the state and central government to employ the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force to rescue the miners. It also urges that high capacity pumps namely Kirloskar Brothers pumps, used by the Thailand government for the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a cave in July 2018, should be used in Meghalaya too. The petition also seeks the formulation of a ‘standard operating procedure for rescue in mines.’

Aditya N Prasad has earlier filed many petitions in the National Green Tribunal or NGT regarding concretisation and its impact on trees in Delhi. When contacted, Prasad refused to comment on the issue.

The 15 miners got trapped in the rat-hole mine located in the Ksan area of Lumthari village on December 13, after the mine was flooded by water from the nearby Lytein river. Rescue operations so far have not been successful.

The 15 have been identified as Omor Ali, Mezamur Islam, Mominul Islam, Amir Hussain, Munirul Islam, Saiar Islam, Shirapat Ali, Mozid S K, Raziul Islam, Muhammad Samsul Haque, Shalabas Dkhar, Long Dkhar, Nilam Dkhar, Abdul Kalam and Assh Bahadur Limbu.

On April 17, 2014, the NGT had banned illegal rat-hole mining all over India after the All Dimasa Students Union and the Dima Hasao District Committee filed a petition that highlighted the unscientific and unregulated rat-hole coal mining operations in the Jaintia Hills. However, following protests by the mining lobby, the tribunal allowed the transport of already-mined coal.

The Meghalaya government challenged the NGT ban in the Supreme Court in November this year. In its last hearing, the apex court extended the time for transportation of mined coal till January 31, 2019. As on May 31, 2018, the extracted coal that is yet to be transported is 1,76,655 metric tonnes (MT). The next hearing will be on January 15, 2019.

The court also appointed human rights lawyer, Colin Gonsalves as the amicus curiae in the case. A Citizen’s Report on the illegal coal mining has also been submitted in the court through Gonsalves that talks about the environmental and human cost of running these mines.

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