Rescue operations have been underway for more than 48 hours now, to save a six-year-old girl stuck 20 feet below the ground in a borewell in Karnatakaâ€™s Belagavi district. However, such incidents in the state are isolated and rare.
The victim, Kaveri, had unsuspectedly fallen into the borewell late on Saturday evening when she was playing with friends.
Although there have been lapses on the part of the state administration in strictly enforcing its own laws in preventing such instances, experts feel that deaths as a result of abandoned borewells in Karnataka are uncommon due to the smaller diameter of borewells compared to those elsewhere in the country.
â€śIn Karnataka, the diameter of the borewells is between 6.5 inches and 10 inches whereas in north India it is bigger, and hence the chances of small children falling into it is more,â€ť The Hindu quoted a senior official of a Bengaluru borewell digging agency, as saying.
Another official of the Department of Mines and Geology claimed that although there have been multiple borewells which were left abandoned, they were covered accordingly, according to The Hindu.
The Hindu quoted an official as saying that the common practice is to cover abandoned borewells with large boulders up to a depth of six feet to prevent further digging of such borewells.
â€śThe only scare is that people try to collect the fine white sand that emerges while sinking the borewell. This could cause the exposure of the borewell mouth resulting in accidents though such disasters have not been reported so far,â€ť the official told The Hindu.
In the wake of multiple accidents, the Siddaramaiah government in 2014 amended the Karnataka Ground Water (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Act, 2011, to hold borewell diggers (both the land owner and borewell digging agency) accountable for accidents as a result of abandoned borewells.
One such regulation was to cover abandoned borewells with steel plates which would have prevented the tragic incident that occurred on Saturday.
The law was amended a month after a four-year-old girl died in Bijapur district after she got trapped in an abandoned borewell in June 2014.
A 50-hour-rescue operation ended in tragedy when four-year-old Akshata was found dead 26 feet below the ground in an abandoned borewell.
The new rules required every borewell to be registered and mandated that a written permission be sought from the district authorities to dig borewells and only a registered borewell agency was allowed to drill.
â€śBefore drilling a borewell, they should intimate the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) of the respective gram panchayat at least 15 days in advance and obtain an acknowledgment. They should also register themselves with the office of the Deputy Commissioner,â€ť then Deputy Secretary of Mysore Zilla Panchayat K Shive Gowda had said, a month after the notification was passed.
In addition, a district-level committee led by the Deputy Commissioner, CEO of the Zilla Panchayat and the Superintendent of Police was supposed to send a monthly report on borewells that were to be set up in each district.
The guidelines also specified that signboards be erected around the borewell and a barrier be put in place to avoid any such accidents.
According to the revised notifications, other than the landowner and borewell diggers, local administration officials would also be held liable for any eventuality.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that a criminal case would be filed against those responsible for the accident.
Even after the new regulations were notified, there have been at least two incidents where lives were lost as a result of people getting trapped inside borewells.
Just two weeks before this on April 12, two farmers in Karnatakaâ€™s Gadag districtâ€”Shankarappa and Basavaraj - died after mud piled up next to the borewell, collapsed on them while they were in the process of removing a faulty casing pipe.
On August 10, 2014, Thimanna, a six-year-old boy died in Bagalkot district of the state and his body was recovered only after a week. He had fallen into a 240-feet deep abandoned borewell in his fatherâ€™s sugarcane field after he reportedly went to show the borewell to his cousin.