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A month on, VIP siren breaks quiet at Ksan

By Dipankar Roy

KSAN: It was one sound not heard here for the past one month that the 15 miners have remained trapped in a rat-hole mine. It was the shrill sound of a siren, one that announces a VIP’s movement. On Saturday, the sound heralded the state Chief Secretary Y Tsering to the mine site.
This was his first visit since the mishap on December 13 and he was accompanied by R V Suchiang, Principal Secretary, Tourism.
As he got down from a Bolero driven by an NDRF personnel and proceeded a few steps to the mine shaft, all stood at attention – personnel of the Indian Navy, NDRF, police, doctors and paramedic staff, et al.
During the next 30 minutes of his stay, he was briefed by those engaged in the rescue operation; the Indian Navy team showed him visuals of their ROV darting inside a horizontal shaft for about a hundred feet a few days back. It had not detected anything of significance, though.
As the miners completed a month on Saturday trapped inside the mine, there was not much to show by way of the rescue effort. “We are where we were on December 14,” lamented an NDRF official. The NDRF had started the rescue work on that day. Since then, several agencies have joined them, all groping in the dark, clueless as to what they were going to do.
“It is like an internship for us,” said a rescuer of the Odisha Fire Service. “We have never confronted a rat-hole mine before,” he added.
In a way, he was speaking for all the others. For, none had. The only thing that has happened, in the hope that something might come out of it, is that much water has flowed from the disaster-struck mine and a few other abandoned ones in the immediate vicinity. But the water has been replaced as fast, bringing even the dewatering effort to a naught.
On Saturday, there were two firsts. One, of course, was Tsering’s stock-taking visit. The other, according to official sources, was PHE staff “disinfecting contaminated water” from the main shaft of the mine, where the miners are said to be trapped, with bleaching powder.
At a point a few hundred metres down the slope from the mine, several pipes were discharging water pumped out from a pit, which collects water drained out from a mine nearby. Alongside, a narrow channel had also been dug to carry out water.
“Are you getting any foul smell from the water there,” an Odisha Fire Service rescuer queried, pointing at the channel. “That’s water from the Kirloskar pumps,” he said. There was an eerie undertone to his seemingly innocuous query. The high-power Kirloskar pumps were pumping out water from the mine where the miners are said to be trapped.

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