The Army battled in vain for several hours to rescue child Mahi, who fell into a 70-feet rig at a village in Haryana recently. Even as a national debate rages on the bore wells left open, a sizeable section of the population in this town makes a living out of drilling these bore wells. In the early 1970s, agriculture was not in a good shape in this district. Some farmers quit agriculture and were on the look out to venture into greener pastures. In 1975-76, some of them joined hands and pooled their money to buy the first few rigs in Tiruchengode, a small town here in Tamil Nadu.

Today, rigs from Tiruchengode move all over the country to drill borewells.

M. Subburathinam (58), who is in the industry for 32 years, told The Hindu that there were close to 4,000 rigs owned by people in and around Tiruchengode. These rigs were operating in almost all the States. “Each rig costs Rs.1 crore or more but the industry is growing every year due to rising demand for drilling borewells,” he added.

According to him, nearly 500-1,000 rig trucks are added to the industry annually, while 20-30 per cent of the old and worn-out trucks roll off the road. The average life of a rig truck is 10 years. By working hard, one can get back the investment in 3-4 years and, thereafter, start realising profits.

“When borewells first came to be drilled, it was mainly for agriculture, but in recent years, the demand for domestic and commercial purposes also increased. Even today, about 75 per cent of the borewells are drilled for agriculture while the rest is for other purposes.”

“Majority of the borewells are drilled in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan,” Mr. Subburathinam said and added that the average number of borewells drilled by a truck varied from 200 (in States such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka) to more than 500 a year (in Maharashtra).

He attributed the vast difference to the deteriorating water level from 600 to 1,300 ft. in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “We can get water between 150 ft. and 200 ft. in Maharashtra and nearby States and this facilitates drilling two to three borewells a day and up to 500 in a year,” he added.

On how the industry flourished in this remote town, Mr. Subburathinam, who is also the former president of the Tiruchengode Rig Owners Association (TROA), said that he was among many others who saw their predecessors emerge successful in the industry due to increasing demand for rigs and jumped into the fray in 1980.

“Tiruchengode is still a leader in drilling borewells across the country though a few operators have mushroomed in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh,” he added.

TROA President M. Ganesan said that it was hard work and great personal sacrifice, some staying away from their families for three to six months, that had sent rigs from Tiruchengode to the far corners of the country.

“Most of the owners are illiterates who were once operators in the rigs owned by others. Few such labourers join hands and buy the rigs and that is how the industry developed,” he said.

Mr. Ganesan said that the peak of business was from mid-January to the end of June. “They return only during the lean season from July to October for repair and maintenance ,” he added.

It is learnt that nearly 1.5 lakh people — directly and indirectly — are employed in the industry in this part of the State. Industry sources who requested anonymity said that there were many people who had run into debt to the tune of several lakhs of rupees by stepping into the business by obtaining Rs.40-60 lakh loan per truck without knowing the nuances of the trade.

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