Over the last 10 days, Tamil Nadu has recorded at least three instances of children falling into pits dug for borewells. One child tragically died in Villupuram, while a second child was rescued in Tirunelveli. As night falls on Tuesday, yet another child is stuck at 40 feet in a borewell pit in Tiruvannamalai.

A curious blend of factors leads to such tragedies, experts point out. During a year when the monsoon fails, water levels dip and consequently, piped water supply is inadequate, the challenge is for people of the State to find alternative water sources.

M. Karmegam, former director, Centre for Water Resources, Anna University, said the State is a semi-arid region and the rainfall it receives only partially meets its water requirements. In drought areas such as Thiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri, people now sink borewells up to 400 feet.

Mr. Karmegam said the State must set up a groundwater monitoring authority to check the indiscriminate drilling of borewells. “Village Administrative Officers should be given the responsibility,” said a senior Fire Service officer. As of now, people close the mouth of the borewells with gunny bags or plastic covers. It should be closed with cement blocks, said the expert.

C. Sylendra Babu, ADGP, who was part of a borewell rescue operation in Chennai in 2001, said the only way to prevent such incidents was to install at least semi-permanent structures around the pits. “We have given instructions to place proper barricades around the pit as well as heavy steel or concrete slabs over them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by K. Lakshmi, K. Manikandan and Vivek Narayanan)