In 1992, a movie named Malootty (directed by Bharathan) was released in Malayalam. It was the story of a little girl Malootty who falls in a borewell while playing with her dog. After several hours of uncertainties and efforts, she is rescued, and the film has a happy ending where she is united with her sobbing parents. The film ends in a joyous denouement; however, the reality may not be the same always.
Last week, a similar accident happened in a small village near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, which has had a different climax, as the two-year-old boy Sujith Wilson met with a tragic end. He fell in a disused borewell near his home and was trapped in there for almost four days. The picture of a young-mother tailoring a cloth-bag to rescue her little son from the borewell was circulated through social media. He became a national sensation, and everyone prayed for his safe return. Even though the government machinery and the national disaster management strived hard to save his life through various measures, everything went vain.
The state government claims that they deployed the best technology, incorporating meticulous suggestions from many experts. The rescue efforts were carried out in a coordinated way, including voluntary groups, like the fire and rescue department, National and State Disaster Response Force, ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation), etc. Yet, he became the victim of not just destiny but of the negligence of society as well.
Borewells, as a kind of death-traps, is not new for children. Many instances of children trapped in uncovered borewells were reported in the past; a few were rescued, and a few of them met with a tragic end. The question is, who is to be blamed in such incidents where innocent toddlers lose their lives? If the authorities don’t take the necessary action, tragedies like this will continue to occur in the future because of abandoned borewells prevalent in many other places across the country. In the wake of the Trichy incident, experts of the Public Works Department (PWD) in the state have alleged that the “lack of routine inspection of by the Panchayat officials and little awareness among the public were the main reasons for such recurring accidents.”
In Tamil Nadu, as per the Supreme Court order in 2010, there exists the Regulation of Sinking of Wells and Safety Measures Rules 2015, in which the onus of filling up the abandoned borewell rests on the shoulder of local administration, rather than on the poor farmers. In the past, many accidents of this nature have occurred in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, etc., where the deep-drilled holes are used to tap groundwater for different purposes. Rather than seeing this as negligence by the parents in taking care of their children, it should be approached as a social responsibility to cap the disused borewells as per the safety guidelines put forth by the SC.
A study by Ondiappan Arivazhagan (2014) predicts borewell accidents, and he proposes a plan to tackle it using a G- Chart or Geometric Distribution of Probabilities that analyzes the causes, and distribution of accidents. He concludes that the possibility of the occurrence of borewell accidents are higher in the states of Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Karnataka. The study also recommends the necessary steps to be taken either by the Government or NGOs to save the lives of innocent children.
It’s high time for the local administration and the public to think about how to tackle borewell accidents and control the death tolls of small children. Still, efficient planning and implementation are required to materialize it. The primary step to be taken is to make it obligatory to follow the safety guidelines to prevent accidents. All the borewells should be capped after use. Even though it may be impossible to keep an eye on toddlers all the time, people should try to report the disused and uncapped borewells to the authorities. If any mishap occurs unforeseen, then the rescue operation should not be delayed, and the administration should ensure the aid of modern technology in consultation with the experts of disaster management authority. The life of any child should not be lost due to the irresponsibility of society anymore.