On December 13, 2018, about 22 miners reportedly went inside an illegal rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya. The 370 feet deep mine was flooded after they struck an underground water source. Only 5 miners were able to escape and the remaining were trapped inside. The 1st battalion of the National Disaster Response Force were the first respondents when they reached the site on December 14.
According to the report by Scroll, by December 30, Coal India Limited, Orissa Fire Services, the Indian Navy, and the water pump manufacturing company Kirloskar Brothers got involved in the rescue operation. Despite that, by February 27, 2019 (76 days after the flooding) they were able to draw out the bodies of only 2 of the miners. Soon after that everyone but the NDRF left.
Apathy of bureaucracy
Scroll tracked the progress of work in their report. According to it, the NDRF team had asked for pumps to dewater the mine on the evening of December 14. They were provided with two 25-horsepower pumps, which did not turn out to be enough since there was seepage.
The next 7 days were spent on calling in experts who could provide an assessment of the situation. On December 20, after the advice of one such expert, the bureaucrats of Meghalaya involved in the process started the process of bringing in better pumps.
For the next 6 days, the application stayed ‘under examination’ as the government went on the much-needed Christmas Holidays, and because there was trouble figuring out whether the roads in the area could, “take the load of heavy pumps”. On December 26, Coal India received the request and again sent in experts to assess the situation.
The first set of high-power pumps arrived from Bhubaneswar on December 29 (15 days after the flooding). The pumps from Coal India arrived over the next two days.
A similar incident occurred in Thailand in June-July 2018, wherein 12 boys and their coach were trapped inside a flooded cave. The successful rescue operation, which coincidentally involved equipment and engineering expertise supplied by the same company ‘Kirloskar Brothers’, took exactly 18 days to complete.
Who is responsible?
March 23rd, 2019, marked the 100th day since the tragedy, and the families of the supposedly deceased have all but left hope of ever recovering the bodies of their beloved. This comes after repeated pleas by the families to retrieve the bodies if nothing else, so that they may be given the final rites in accordance with their traditions.
In an analysis comparing the Meghalaya tragedy with the Thailand incident, Quartz detailed the places where India went wrong. They pointed out to a lack of better equipment, a lack of media attention, and more than anything else a lack of political will, that led to the supposed longest rescue mission in the history of India to being a failure.