RIP Sujith: Borewell was supposed to be closed...Who should be held responsible?
Chennai, Oct 29: Two-year-old Sujith Wilson, who fell into an abandoned borewell in Tamil Nadu's Tiruchirappalli district on Friday, was found dead, his body decomposing, early this morning after 82 hours of non-stop rescue efforts. The funeral proceedings have started. The rituals will be conducted as per the Christian procedure.
As people mourn the death of Sujith, the DMK and Congress blamed the Tamil Nadu government for the tragedy.
These kinds of repeated incidents of children falling into abandoned borewells had earlier prompted the Tamil Nadu government to notify rules early in 2015, mandating safety measures, including filling discarded wells up to ground level.
Although several voluntary groups, fire and rescue officials, state and national disaster relief forces, worked relentlessly from Friday evening, the government has been criticised that it missed the crucial golden hour period adopting a trial-and-error approach.
Such repeat incidents in Tamil Nadu was also witnessed back in April 2014, after which the government amended local laws in August that year, including the 'Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act' to further regulate sinking of wells and related aspects like its proper maintenance.
The amendments mandated permission from authorities for sinking wells and its non-compliance, attracting a minimum of three years imprisonment.
After such amendments, the government notified the 'Tamil Nadu Panchayats Rules' and 'The TN Municipalities Rules,' both on the regulation of sinking of wells and safety measures, in early 2015.
Under the norms, a permit has to be taken for sinking, deepening or rehabilitation of a well and an application has to be made for grant of certificate of registration to carry on the business of sinking wells.
The rules on safety aspects mandate that every holder of the permit or owner of a well in use or disuse, shall, while sinking, deepening or rehabilitating a well, adhere to specified norms. It should be ensured that the well is not left uncovered during recess or cessation of work.
Clause 'd' under the head safety measures specifies "fill up abandoned wells up to the ground level using clay, sand, boulder or any other suitable materials."
Before commencing work, signboards should be erected in a conspicuous manner at the site of the well, displaying the nature, width and depth of the well and the name, address and contact details of the owner.
The rules also mandate that barbed wire fencing or any other suitable barrier be put up around the site of the well.
In September 2014, the Madras High Court had disposed of a PIL plea on abandoned borewells after the Tamil Nadu government submitted that suitable amendments have been made to enactments to provide for more regulations and stringent punishment.
Such incidents have occurred in other parts of the country as well, including neighbouring Karnataka, which had years ago said a total of 1,47,786 defunct borewells have been closed in view of mishaps involving children.
In the wake of such incidents, the Supreme Court had in 2010 directed all states to cap all abandoned borewells in their territories and to properly fence all the working wells to prevent small children falling into them.
The top court had also directed random inspection of the abandoned wells by authorities. So, the question arises here is who is responsible for this? Was it the muddled rescue operations to be blamed for the death of the young boy?
DMK chief MK Stalin said, "Had ministers shown interest in rescue operations instead of giving media interviews we could have reached Sujith in time."
"He Sujith could have been saved when he was stuck at 36 feet," Stalin added.
Meanwhile, Congress MP from Karur Jothimani said that despite the efforts put in by committed manpower, two-year-old Sujith Wilson could not be rescued alive due to "lack of a proper plan".
Sujith had fallen into the disused farm borewell while playing near his house in Nadukattupatti on Friday evening, and various central and state agencies were called in to rescue him.
Initially, he was stuck at a depth of about 30 feet but subsequently slipped further down, and the body was finally pulled out from a depth of 88 feet, an official said. Commissioner of Revenue Administration J Radhakrishnan said rescuers noticed a foul smell around 10.30 pm on Monday following which medical personnel and teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) assessed the situation.
The tragedy had drawn national attention with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeting words of sympathy and encouragement. Tiruchirappalli district collector S Sivarasu told reporters at Nadukattupatti village that personnel of the national and state disaster response force personnel retrieved the body.
Earlier on Monday, a heavy German-made drilling machine was deployed to dig a parallel shaft to reach the boy, but rescue efforts were hampered by rocky soil and rain. Two Fire and Rescue Services personnel were lowered into the freshly drilled shaft, using a ladder and with all necessary support like oxygen, for initial assessment of the condition inside.
The collector said, "Three loads of redimix concrete has been ordered and I will not leave this spot without closing the defunct borewell and as well as the parallel hole dug up for the rescue effort." As the boy's body arrived, a pall of gloom descended on the village and people lined up to pay their last respects. Police personnel have been deployed in adequate numbers to maintain law and order. Cabinet colleagues, including Vellamandi Natarajan, paid their last respects to the boy at the hospital. DMK chief M K Stalin and leaders of political parties also condoled the death.
(with PTI inputs)