India Struggles to Save 15 Trapped Coal Miners

NEW DELHI — Indian rescue workers are struggling to save 15 workers who have been trapped for two weeks in an illegal coal mine, their chances of survival growing increasingly slim, and the government has come under fire for failing to provide sophisticated equipment for the operation.

The miners, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, became trapped on Dec. 13 when the mine was flooded by a nearby river, local officials said. Illegal mines — called “rat holes” by local activists and news media because of their narrow tunnels — are prevalent throughout the state and are often connected to local politicians, evading laws and regulations.

The government has been criticized for not providing the rescue operation with powerful pumps to extract water from the mine, which officials say is 300 feet deep and filled with at least 70 feet of water. Rescue divers on the scene are trained to dive at a maximum of only 40 feet, according to Santosh Kumar Singh of the National Disaster Response Force, who is heading a team of officers at the site.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also criticized for visiting the neighboring state of Assam on Christmas Day and not mentioning the rescue operation during a photo opportunity or paying a visit to the nearby site.

Rescue workers have given up trying to pump water out of the mine, and local officials say the chances of retrieving any living miners are falling after two weeks trapped without food or clean drinking water.

“The state as well as the central government have failed to provide high-power pumps and other equipment to fast-track the process of sucking water out of the mine,” said Vincent H. Pala, a federal lawmaker from the area.

Illegal mining is a local livelihood in Meghalaya, with miners, many of them children, earning nearly $12 a day, more than many other professions in India.

“This is nothing but the exploitation of poor laborers, putting their lives in danger,” said Agnes Kharshiing, a local activist critical of the industry who was attacked last month by a mafia attached to illegal mines, injuring her head and leg.

Maria Abi-Habib contributed reporting from Goa, India.

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