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Delay, indecisiveness mark rescue ops

SHILLONG: “We have to believe in miracles,” is what Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court, which is hearing a PIL on rescue operations underway at a coal mine at Ksan, East Jaintia Hills district, on Friday.
Fifteen miners have been trapped in the mine since December 13.
A note submitted by Anand Grover, senior advocate, on behalf of the petitioner, Aditya N Prasad, to the court on Friday gives an insight into the delay and indecisiveness on the part of the government — both at the Centre and in the state — to speed up matters to try and rescue the miners.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s “We have to believe in miracles” and Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s “Miracles do happen” earlier, therefore, come as no surprise.
The note “to assist the rescuing operation” mentions how the petitioner Aditya Prasad has been in touch with strategic organisations for help with men and equipment.
Prasad has also been in constant touch with the administration in Meghalaya via phone calls and emails, but bureaucratic delays have prevented speedy action which could make a difference between life and death.
From January 8 to 10, the petitioner, after identifying the organisations that could render help, kept dashing off one e-mail after another starting with the NDRF to the East Jaintia Hills District Administration to the State and Central administration saying that the organisations he was in touch with had offered their expertise and equipment — even for free — to make meaningful contribution to the rescue efforts. All they are waiting for is that their men and machinery be airlifted, but to no avail.
On Friday, before the two-judge bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer, all that Mehta said was that the government had already contacted these institutions and requested them for help.
Earlier, during the frantic exchange of mails that the petitioner had with the officialdom, he learnt — through copies of letters mailed to him — that the “Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Meghalaya” had written to the CEO, Planys Technology, Chennai regarding “Small ROV” and to the Director, National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad regarding “Ground Penetrating Radar for identification of the underground mines, their directions and sources of water.”
The letters stated that the team along with equipment may be sent to Guwahati Airport at the earliest, from where arrangement shall be made to transport them to the site of operation.
Almost a month after the accident, there appeared no urgency to have the men and equipment airlifted from source and delivered at the site directly by using appropriate aircraft sourced from the defence establishment.
Even for the state government, funds to support the rescue effort should have been the least of the problems. After all, it is sitting on a corpus of over Rs 500 crore — charged form mine owners for environmental restoration.
Tapping into that for the lives of 15 miners should have been the most appropriate thing to do.
But the inertia on display is not surprising going by the SOS the East Jaintia Hills District Administration had sent to the NDRF on December 13.
To recap, the Deputy Commissioner, F M Dopth, in his communication to the Commandant, 1st Battalion of NDRF based in Guwahati, had said “due to overflowing of water the dead bodies are still trapped inside and could not be seen” and requested to send a team for “rescue operation immediately.”
From there to “we have to believe in miracles” is perhaps the only possible progression.
All hopes of ever seeing the miners now rest on the Supreme Court and the international media glare.
The former on Friday said: “There is no dispute that you are making efforts. Whether they (miners) are alive today, we do not know. May be somebody is alive there. You have to take them out,” the bench told Mehta, adding, “You have to continue making efforts”.
Meanwhile Meghalaya is now the talking point of international media.
The Washington Post has come up with a report on the tragic mining accident with scathing remarks on the illegal coal mining in Meghalaya and the apathy displayed by the government in rescuing the trapped miners.

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