Just a few months ago, in July this year to be precise, 12 young boys and their coach trapped in a Thailand cave were rescued after almost two weeks. And at the time much was made in the Indian media at least of experts from a Pune-headquartered firm giving technical support and advise in the daring rescue mission that brought all of them out alive. Kirloskar Brothers’ Limited’s dewatering pumps were used in the rescue operations, recommended by the Indian embassy to Thailand according to reports. The company sent in team from its offices in India Thailand and the United Kingdom to the site.According to a press statement by the company, its experts were on the site at the Tham Luang cave since July 5 to provide “technical knowhow and advice on dewatering and pumps involved in the rescue operation.” Additional to this four specialised high capacity autoprime dewatering pumps were kept read to be airlifted at a moments notice to Thailand.

Where was this firm, its experts, its pumps all of these two weeks in Meghalaya where 15 miners have been trapped in one of the rat mines amidst government floundering and much flapping of hands. Within days the rescue operations were given up on the pretext that the pumps used to take out the water were useless. The operations supervised by the National Disaster Response Force along with state agencies said that the low-capacity pumps had to be shut down because they were found to be ineffectual. Precious hours and days were wasted, with those on the site reporting a foul smell from within the rat mine, indication death and decomposing bodies. Two weeks later a decision was finally taken to fly in the Kirloskar pumps to the site, with the Indian Air Force being pressed into service to transport these. While there is a great deal in the media about the operations and this decision, the question as to why this was not done within the first 24 hours---crucial to survival in such incidents---has neither been asked nor answered. We could fly these pumps to Thailand, and brag about the use, but not to Meghalaya.

Is it because the expense was not justified as the miners are drawn from the poorest of the poor, who work in inhuman conditions and for meagre stipends to sustain themselves and their families? Is it because the poor of India do not matter, and only when the incident catches the public imagination that governments feel compelled to act? The callousness and indifference of the state was visible from day one insofar as this incident was concerned. With legislators in Parliament using this to ask not for proper conditions, safeguards, and equipment for miners but to insist that illegal mining in Meghalaya be made legal. Will this solve the problem for the employed poor? After all the rat mines will remain, the sub-human conditions will remain, as will the total exploitation of poverty by the mine owners for their own ends.

The water pumps deployed now will do the work of clearing the mines of water and perhaps making these operable again. As for the 15 miners, does anyone in government really care?