From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much
Mains level : Borewell deaths
The intensive operation in Tamil Nadu to rescue a child who slipped into an abandoned borewell in Trichy district ended in failure.
Issues in the event
- No technology or protocols – No breakthrough method has emerged, in terms of technology or protocols to rescue small children who have fallen into deep holes that are less than a foot wide.
- Repeat of similar events in the past – The disaster is no different from the one that took the life of another two-year-old in Punjab’s Sangrur district earlier this year.
- Huge cost to NDRF – the agency deployed its teams no less than 37 times until 2018, mostly in Maharashtra, but also in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka.
- Increase in the number – More such disasters are bound to occur, since there are many disused and uncovered well holes scattered in farms in several States.
- Lack of rules – No time can be lost in implementing the safety rules relating to wells issued in the past.
Laws/ existing mechanisms
- Tamil Nadu Act – Tamil Nadu issued the Regulation of Sinking of Wells and Safety Measures Rules 2015, incorporating measures ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010.
- Provisions of TN law – There is a provision requiring the holder of a permit or well to fill up an abandoned hole up to the ground level using clay, sand or boulders.
- Onus on the local body – Meaningful implementation of this provision requires that the onus should rest with the local body, and not the owner of the borewell who is often a farmer of poor means.
- Closing an abandoned well would not be seen as a wasteful expenditure by farmers as they would not be charged for it. Also, panchayat personnel would execute the closure rather than merely certify that action has been taken.
- Time-bound capping of open wells will eliminate the intensive, high-cost rescues that the NDRF has to attempt.
- Urban areas – Deep borewell accidents have also occurred in cities that rely heavily on groundwater. Supreme Court pointed out that it should be the task of the municipal and public health authorities to eliminate the issue.
It is time the State governments took safety seriously, came up with a census of well structures in need of attention, and capped the problem forever.