Despite the regular recurrence of incidents wherein children falling into the abandoned open borewells, nothing substantial has happened. The tragic death of Chinnari, an 18-month-old girl, reminds us of abysmal lack of commitment to implement even official orders.
The Supreme Court of India as early as 2010 issued clear guidelines to prevent such avoidable accidents. The Central and the State governments have also given instructions. But, all these remain unimplemented on the ground, indicating a serious public policy lapse in translating the intent into action.
Among many other measures suggested, the apex court guidelines require that landowners take written permission from authorities for digging borewells. They also require compulsory registration of all drilling agencies, erection of signboards and barriers around the drilling site, construction of cement platform around the well casing, capping of well by welding steel plates and filling up of unused borewells.
The other measures mandated by the Supreme Court include: On completion of the drilling operations at a particular location, the ground conditions are to be restored as before the start of drilling; Random inspection of the abandoned wells is also to be done by the Executive of the agency/department concerned.
As these regulations go unheeded, the causalities continue to rise over the years. The problem has more to do with lack of concrete accountability for undertaking such preventive measures and no identification of culpability for such horrifying incidents.
There seems to be no national register of children getting trapped in borewell shafts. Even the official records seem to be not having any account of action taken after such incidents either to punish the guilty or to avoid recurrence of such events. There is also no record of compensation paid to the victims.
The remarkable alacrity with which such unpleasant events are repeating indicates the unacceptably low levels of governance and abominable attitude of the society to such incidents except showing sympathy at that point of time. The borewell owners should be made accountable and criminal proceedings should be initiated on those who left such borewells uncapped.
But, before that a massive awareness programme is needed to ensure enforcement. A special apparatus has to be constituted in the local bodies for this purpose. An action plan has to be executed to fill the existing open borewells.
Governments alone cannot ensure total enforcement. The local community has to intervene. The support of non-governmental organisations and political parties should also be enlisted.
The government should also announce incentives for those who cap these death wells. Such a combination of measures can only prevent such avoidable disasters challenging the efficacy of the system.
The state governments should immediately order for a survey to prepare a comprehensive record of district/mandal/village-wise status of borewells/tubewells drilled viz., no. of wells in use, no. of abandoned borewells/tube wells found open, no. of abandoned borewells/tube wells properly filled up to ground level and balance number of abandoned borewells/tubewells to be filled up to ground level. An action plan has to be chalked out accordingly and effectively executed.