BOREWELL RESCUE ROBOTS AND HOW WELL THEY ARE USED IN RECENT BOREWELL ACCIDENTS
Updated: May 10, 2021
Author: Vaibhav Shitole
Borewells have been used in India since for decades now. They are a popular choice for irrigation purposes in both rural and urban agricultural fields. A borewell is around 100 to 1500 feet in depth. High capacity borewells have casing pipe diameters of 10 to 12 in. with depth above 80m. Medium and Low capacity borewells have 8in and 6in diameter casing pipe,depth more than 80m and between 30m-50m respectively. The digging of borewell has been affiliated to the government wherein everyone must take prior permission and follow certain rules and regulations if one wants to dig a borewell.
The rules regarding borewells in all states unanimously aim at providing safety to the people, especially children living in the vicinity of their presence. For instance,permission to dig a bore well must be taken at least 15 days before starting the construction. There should be an elevated cement construction around the borewell opening that separates it from the ground and thus is easy to spot for everyone. A clear sign should be erected at the construction site. In some states, it is mandatory by law to separate the site with barbed fencing or any sort of barriers to prevent entry.
WHERE DOES THE PROBLEM OCCUR?
India is estimated to have around 27 million bore wells, many of which are illegally dug and a large number of them have been abandoned. Since 2009 around 40 children have reportedly fallen into bore wells. Their rescue operations have statistically failed 70% of the time. Since 2003, 33 deaths of such kinds have occurred, 92% of which involved children below 10 years of age. This is highly disturbing and saddening since rules ought to have been strict after the very first incident was reported. The earliest bore well accident the nation saw was in 2006 when a six-year-old boy named Prince, from Haryana fell 60 feet into a bore well. A50-hour operation finally saved the child. Another accident that witnessed national coverage was that of Sujith Wilson, a two-year-old boy from Tamil Nadu who fell into an abandoned bore well in his village. His rescue operation lasted 81 hours in spite of which the young soul could not be saved.
When such an accident occurs, the SDRF and NDRF teams are deployed at the site. The rescue challenges faced most often are the tender age of children who are sacred and not able to comprehend the instructions given to them by rescue professionals, remote locations, confined space, impaired visibility, and weather and soil conditions. The biggest battle is against time, even though oxygen is supplied to the children stuck below, no food and water eventually lead to deterioration of health.
Common rescue techniques used in such situations are:
· Magic ball
· Umbrella tool
· Aluminium wire with hook
· Robots with camera and oxygen supply
The only technique that has worked in the past is parallel digging where a vertical well is dug parallel to the bore well till the depth where the child is stuck and both are connected by digging a horizontal tunnel. The soil conditions are crucial in such cases as in hilly areas the soil is mostly rocky, making digging difficult. In such times, technical experts from across the nation are called upon. Their expertise is consulted and efforts are made using their technological inventions. Although what historical statistics have proved in most of these accidents is that these rescue attempts using machines and robots built by these experts either yield no result at all after hours of trialor end up worsening the situation by pushing the child further down or dumping more soil into the pit.
In 2014, three years off G. Harshan fell into a bore well and was stuck at a depth of 20feet. An expert team comprising of Manikandan and M. Thirunavukarasen was summoned to the site. Their rescue robot successfully saved the child and pulled him out. This was the first time a robot was able to carry out such an operation triumphantly. The same team had attempted a similar operation earlier in 2013 and pulled a girl out of a bore well. She however lost her life on the way to the hospital.
SCRUTINIZING THE ISSUE
Any machine before deployment is tested hundreds of times to ensure proper results and safety. Thus a question arises that why aren’t the machines and robots built to rescue a young life tested throughout the year to perfect them and eventually save so many innocent lives? Testing them as a last resort at the time of need seems cruel and like a futile attempt suggesting loss of hope. Most of these robots consist of a hand or an embracing mechanism to hold the child, or a sitting apparatus like a stand or a ball or an umbrella-like structure which is deployed below the child for him to sit on, and a rope or wire system to pull him out. But since the walls are wet or loose and the diameter of these wells are very less, it is a huge challenge for such machines to properly reach the child and fulfil their purpose. The child is so tightly wedged that pulling him out becomes extremely difficult.When asked to comment on this, Shantha Sinha, former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights(NCPCR) said if the machines are well designed and tested then they should be used definitely. But without proper testing and reliable records,their use is inadvisable.
In February 2009, Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan undertook the suo motu public interest litigation petition regarding bore well accidents. In February2010, three Judges bench with the CJI and Justices B.S. Chauhan and C.K. Prasad drafted the precautionary measures regarding bore well safety that was to be adopted by all states of the nation. Although after the immediate retirement of CJI Balakrishnan, this initiative never saw proper implementation.
In 2015 Tamil Nadu panchayat released a set of rules regarding abandoned bore wells. Maharashtra government did it in 2019 with real-time monitoring of digging bore wells, confirmed by Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) Director Shekhar Gaikwad. Tamil Nadu Fire Rescue Services(TNFRS) gave an order of making 20 rescue machines. It was instructed nationally to cover up abandoned bore wells using sand, clay and boulders to avoid further similar accidents.
Thus it is clear that no amount of rules and laws is going to alleviate such crisis unless authorities are practicing them at domestic levels like conducting surprise inspections and practicing strict punishment for breaking rules. Also, people as individuals must take into account all safety measures. A special division should be formed aimed towards perfecting the rescue robots and conducting experiments year long.