SC had framed guidelines to prevent borewell mishaps a decade ago

October 28, 2019 08:17 pm | Updated October 29, 2019 01:25 am IST - Chennai

An abandoned borwell being sealed in Kaatinyanapalli panchayat in Krishnagiri on October 28, 2019.

An abandoned borwell being sealed in Kaatinyanapalli panchayat in Krishnagiri on October 28, 2019.

It has been nearly 10 years since the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of a spate of incidents, reported from across the country, of children falling into abandoned borewells and issued a series of guidelines to prevent such incidents from recurring. Yet, the guidelines remain on paper.

Since then, several such cases have been reported, the latest being that of Sujith Wilson.

Acting upon a letter a citizen wrote to him in February 2009, then Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan took up a suo motu public interest litigation petition regarding the deaths of children in such incidents.

On February 11, 2010, a three-judge Bench, comprising the CJI and Justices B.S. Chauhan and C.K. Prasad, laid down certain safety measures to be followed by all State governments. The Chief Secretaries of the States were directed to forward copies of the court order containing the guidelines to the Collectors for compliance. Besides, the court said the guidelines should be widely publicised.

CJI Balakrishnan retired from service in May 2010, and a Bench comprising his successor S.H. Kapadia and Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar disposed of the suo motu PIL on August 6, 2010 with some modifications to the guidelines issued earlier. As per the modified guidelines, any landowner looking to sink a borewell should inform the government officials concerned about the same, at least 15 days in advance.

It was also made mandatory for the drilling agencies to get themselves registered either with the district administration or any other statutory authority. Further, signboards should be erected on the drilling sites, containing the details of the landowner as well as the drilling agency. More importantly, the court-mandated guidelines insisted upon the installation of barbed wire fencing or any other suitable barrier around the borewells at the time of drilling.

The capping of the wells with bolts and nuts, the filling up of mud pits and channels on completion of the work and the restoration of the ground to its original condition were the other requirements stipulated by the court. In so far as the abandoned borewells were concerned, the court ordered that they should be filled with clay, sand, boulders, pebbles or drill cutting from the bottom of the well till the ground level.

“District Collectors should be empowered to verify that the above guidelines are being followed and proper monitoring of the status of boreholes/tubewells is being taken care [of] through the government agencies concerned. District/Block/Village-wise status of borewells/tubewells drilled, number of wells in use, number of abandoned borewells/tubewells, number of wells found open, number of wells not properly filled should be maintained.

“In rural areas, the monitoring of the above is to be done through village Sarpanch and the executive from the Agriculture department. In case of urban areas, the monitoring of the above is to be done through Junior Engineer and the Executive from the concerned Department of Ground Water/Public Health/Municipal Corporation, etc.,” the Supreme Court had said, and insisted upon the persons concerned obtaining certificates on proper closure of abandoned borewells.

“Random inspection of the abandoned wells is also to be done by the executive of the agency/department concerned. Information on all such data on the above is to be maintained in the District Collector/Block Development Office,” the court order read.

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