Thirteen miners were feared dead after an illegal coal mine they were digging collapsed on them in Meghalaya’s coal-rich East Jaintia Hills, an area where illegal mining is rife and a National Green Tribunal ban on such activities has been in place for four years.

District police chief Silvester Nongtyngnger said he had information that 13 people, including three residents of Lumthari village, were trapped inside a mine at Ksan near Lyteiñ River under Saipung police station.

Nongtyngnger added that he believed the mine to be an old one on which the illegal activity resumed around three-four days back. People familiar with the matter said the miners may have accidentally breached another old (and illegal) coal mine filled with water, in turn flooding the mine on which they were working.

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The police chief added that the flooding was making it impossible to recover the bodies. “The water is being pumped out with the help of a generator and is in progress,” he said, adding that local villagers acquainted with the terrain were helping in the rescue work.

Police have registered a case against the mine owner, whose identity is yet to be established.

Meghalaya has nearly 640 million tonnes of coal reserves. Mining of coal by hand has been going on in Meghalaya for over 150 years, mostly for local use. Large-scale illegal and indiscriminate mining of the coal by private landowners and the local community started nearly three decades ago. Most of these mines employ minors, some from neighbouring states and Nepal as well; the miners work many meters underground in unsafe conditions, mining coal with their bare hands.

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