New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday asked Centre and Meghalaya government to take help of experts to rescue the miners who are trapped in a coal mine in Meghalaya‘s East Jaintia Hills since December 13 last year. Hearing the PIL seeking urgent steps for rescuing these miners, a bench headed by Justice AK Sikri said, “Carry on with your rescue efforts, what if all or at least some are still alive? Miracles do happen.”

The top court also asked the state government what is being done about persons operating illegal mines and the officials who allowed illegal mines to go on?

Earlier on January 4, the court had directed the Centre and Meghalaya government to file on January 7 a status report detailing the steps taken and also the progress made in the rescue operation.  Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, had told the court about the steps taken by the authorities, including central government officials, for undertaking swift rescue operation in Meghalaya.

He said the 355-feet well was like having a 20-storeyed building beneath the land.

Till now several members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Army, Navy personnel are there to rescue the trapped miners.

Family members of at least seven trapped miners had already given up hope to rescue them alive and requested the government to retrieve the bodies for last rites.

The National Green Tribunal had banned unscientific and unsafe rat-hole coal mining in Meghalaya in 2014. Police had registered a case against mine operator James Sukhlain of Lumthari village, for running the mine illegally and at present he is absconding.

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.

On December 13, nearly 20 miners entered the quarry owned by Krip Chullet. After reaching the bottom of the pit, they entered horizontal manholes, often termed as ‘rat-holes’, as each just about fits one person. The miners have been trapped in the illegal pit after water from nearby Lytein River gushed into the mine.