Five-year-old Mahi who died after falling into an open borewell in Manesar, Haryana was not the first child to die in such circumstances and she certainly won't be the last. The first time an incident of this nature came into national consciousness was in 2006, when television channels broadcast continuous live coverage of attempts to rescue then five-year-old Prince.
Since then there have been at least ten reported incidents of children falling into open borewells; a statistic that is not really that shocking if one considers the extent of the menace of illegal borewells in Delhi and NCR (National Capita Region).
There are 84 notified areas for the control and regulation of ground water in the country, according to the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA). Of these, 12 are in Haryana and three in Delhi (South, South West districts and Yamuna flood plain area). No digging for borewells can be done in these areas without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner.
Despite the law however, rampant drilling to get ground- water without required permission and abandoning of borewells is common in these areas. The Haryana government reportedly sealed 500 illegal borewells over the last one year and has 27 inspections teams to conduct inquiries. Illegal borewells can bee seen in many areas of South and South West Delhi which face a severe paucity of water.
“There are hardly any cases of people approaching authorities for permission because such digging is done either by the water mafia or by ordinary citizens, majority of whom, are not aware of such laws. There have been cases where even the Deputy Commissioner is not aware of the list of notified areas because he has other priorities,” said Manoj Mishra of 'Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan', a forum that works to preserve the Yamuna.
In February 2010, Supreme Court (SC) took suo motu notice of the matter and ordered all states to cap all illegal borewells. “The menace will not stop unless we take strong action,” ruled the apex court, drafting guidelines to deal with the menace of illegal borewells.
The SC order says that if a borewell/tubewell is ‘abandoned’ at any stage, a certificate from the concerned department of ground water/ public health/ municipal corporation/ private Contractor must be obtained by the aforesaid agencies that the ‘abandoned’ borewell/tubewell is properly filled upto the ground level.
The SC came down particularly heavily on the states of Haryana, Punjab, UP, MP and Rajasthan where the frequency of such accidents was higher than other states, and made the chief secretary accountable for such cases.
The judgment said that in the cases of illegal borewells, the drilling agency should be charged with criminal and civil liabilities.
Non- implementation of the SC ruling is not the only problem though, said Mishra. “Suppose we transfer or remove the Chief Secretary. Will that solve the problem? What about individual duty to cap or such pits as children can fall into them?”