Borewell deaths: blame state's apathy

An uncovered borewell has claimed the life of yet another child. Six-year-old Kaveri was playing with her friends when she fell into a 400-foot-deep borewell on a farm in Belagavi district in Karnataka.

Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) worked round-the-clock to rescue her but, unfortunately, they failed to reach her on time. Many will describe the incident as a tragic accident. While Kaveri’s fall into the well was indeed accidental, her death must be blamed on the callous attitude of the borewell contractor who drilled the well but failed to cover it up; the owner of the land on which the well was located; and the panchayat authorities, who should have ensured that the unused well was covered or fenced. Had these people and agencies acted with responsibility, young Kaveri would be alive today. Overall, the Karnataka government needs to take responsibility for failing to monitor closure of the open borewells.

According to official figures, around 200 children from across the country fall into open borewells each year. Two-thirds of them die of suffocation and their numbers are growing. In 2010, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to ensure capping of borewells. It provided detailed guidelines too. Acting on the SC order, the state announced a string of measures in 2014. Landowners were to get written permission from authorities to dig borewells. They and drilling companies were required to put up barbed wire fencing around the well during drilling and erect a cement platform for the well casing. Capping of the borewell by welding a steel plate was made mandatory. It was to be covered with soil and thorny shrubs, too, so that children could not go anywhere near the well. The Karnataka government also ordered the shutting down of defunct borewells; some 1,85,000 such wells were closed as a result of this initiative.

After announcing the rules, the Karnataka government went into snooze mode, it seems. Little follow-up action was taken to ensure that borewells were being covered and unused ones filled up. Worryingly, with the state in the grip of successive drought and failed monsoon, a large number of borewells that dried up were neither closed nor filled up. More recently, the government lifted the ban on borewell drilling in the state. Borewells have mushroomed since, with most having no safety measures. The state government is reported to be considering a new legislation that will provide for more stringent punishment to those violating the borewell rules. However, such a legislation will be useful only if the government acts to implement the laws. Panchayat authorities are not monitoring borewell drilling activity. Neither do they act on comp­laints made by the public about open borewells. This lackadaisical attitude to the safety of our children must end.

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