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Open Borewells & Ignored Guidelines: How Long Will We Fail Our Children?

Posted: October 30, 2019

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Every few years, we hear the story of a child trapped in an open borewell. We need serious consequences for all those responsible for these accidents.

Another victim of a horrifying borewell accident, two-year-old Sujith Wilson was recently declared dead after 80 hours of being trapped in an open, disused borewell.

A brief overview of what had happened: Wilson fell into a 600-ft disused borewell while playing near his house in Nadukattupatti, Chennai, on the evening of 25th of October. Central and state agencies, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) joined the rescue operations. The boy was supplied oxygen, but he continuously drifted further from 35 ft to 90 ft.

The rescue team decided to drill a hole parallel to the borewell three meters away, but it wasn’t feasible because of the rocky soil and rain. With further complications, by Monday, i.e., the 28th of October, a foul smell was observed near the borewell and the rescue team realised that Sujith Wilson had died. It took five days, and they still couldn’t rescue the child. This is not the first time that something like this has happened.

It has been found that at least 10 children died in the last 15 years by falling into unsealed borewells. And what might the reasons be? Lack of responsibility towards child safety, lack of awareness on sealing unused borewells and the indifference of the public towards safety measures even after these horrendous accidents.

The guidelines to prevent such accidents already exist

Did you know that the Supreme Court, after the abundant number of reports filed against children falling into borewells, issued a series of guidelines 10 years ago to prevent such incidents from recurring? Yes, the guidelines do exist, and our ignorance of it too.

A three-judge Bench, comprising of the CJI and Justices B. S. Chauhan and C. K. Prasad, laid down certain safety measures to be followed by all State Governments on the 11th of February, 2010.  The Chief Secretaries of the State forwarded copies of the court order to the Collectors for compliance of the guidelines. The guidelines were widely publicised too. The guidelines included:

  • At least 15 days in advance, the concerned government officials need to be informed of the construction of borewell by any landowner.
  • Registration with the district administration of the drilling agencies is mandatory.
  • Signboards containing details of the landowner and the drilling agency should be erected on the drilling sites.
  • Installation of barbed wire fencing or any other barriers at the drilling site is necessary.
  • Filling up of mud pits and channels, covering the wells with lids and restoring the grounds in its original condition is also required.
  • Abandoned borewells needs to be filled with clay, sand, boulders, and pebbles or drill cutting from the bottom of the well till the ground level.

Following the guidelines will help to save the children from further hazards, but that is not the case. Authorities such as village sarpanches in rural areas and municipal corporation officials in urban areas need to be empowered, proactive and accessible to the public, to verify that the guidelines are being properly followed and proper monitoring of the status of borewells is taking place.

What penalties for non-compliance?

The lack of penalties enforced for non-compliance has led to more such incidents. In reality, leaving a borewell uncovered does not seem to actually lead to any major consequences for the owners or drillers. The drilling agencies fearlessly abandoned the borewells, taking life of Sujith Wilson, three-year-old R. Madhumita, 18 month old D. Sujith and many other children whose names weren’t even mentioned.

Even after the judiciary prescribed guidelines to stop these accidents from repeating, carelessness on the part of the drilling agencies and the public as a whole, has put children’s lives at risk. Thousands of people, including celebrities prayed for the safety of Sujith Wilson, but to no avail. The prayers weren’t heard this time, nor were they heard before.

The only thing that we can do now is be aware of our surroundings. If you see an uncovered borewell in your neighbourhood, please ask the concerned owners to cover it instead of putting children’s lives at stake. Call your local municipality office or concerned authorities to report and put pressure.

If the necessary measures are taken, these precious lives can be saved from gruesome deaths.

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An English literature student with a love for reading and writing, and who chills tucked

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