A great human tragedy has been playing out for a month and a day, but we have been unable to do anything about it. Meghalaya's mine cave-in, in which hope for survival of the 15 trapped in a rathole of an illegal coal mine has all but faded, is challenging our emergency services and our technology. Scientists cannot fathom the reason why the ill-fated 370-foot-deep mine is filling up with water despite tonnes of water being pumped out. Multiple agencies, some using submersible robotic vessels, have been on the rescue mission in the hope of getting the slenderest breakthrough to find any signs of life. That interim compensation cheques have been paid already reflects the scale of the disaster.
At the technical level, the rescue efforts, supervised by the Supreme Court, have gone on against the odds. At another level, the very existence of such mines, possibly owned by politicians in proxy names, shows how few avenues exist for people of the region and neighbouring Assam areas to earn a living. It won't take superhuman efforts to shut such mines if there is political will. But in an area featuring illegal timber trading off Bhutan hills and illegal coal mining, shutting of means of livelihood, even if they are of questionable legality, might represent a huge conundrum. This is representative of the state of the economy not being in a position to support the population with jobs and avenues for self-employment. As long as such a state persists, illegal mafias will cynically exploit people to make profits. The regulation of such activities with safety measures in place might prove the ultimate challenge.