Shaken out of slumber over the heartbreaking demise of two-year-old Fatehveer, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Tuesday ordered closure of all abandoned borewells across the state, while defending his government in the rescue operations.
Maintaining that the District Administration handed over the rescue operations to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) soon after receiving the information, Capt Amarinder justified the delay in calling in army to lead the rescue operations saying that the Army authorities lacked necessary equipment and skills to handle a problem of this nature.
“Army authorities at Patiala, Sangrur and at Chandimandir Command were immediately informed, and monitored and guided the rescue operations, though lack of the necessary equipment and skills to handle a problem of this nature prevented Army personnel from taking over the operation,” said Capt Amarinder.
Expressing anguish over toddler’s tragic death, the Chief Minister sought reports from all the Deputy Commissioners on all such existing open borewells, with a direction to take immediate corrective action to prevent the recurrence of such catastrophic incidents.
He has also asked the Disaster Management Group, headed by the Chief Secretary, to finalise a set of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) to check and prevent such incidents.
The Group, which had been constituted to tackle natural calamities, has also been asked to study the inadequacies, if any, in the relief operations, and give recommendations to ensure better and quicker operations in the future in case of any such or similar manmade disaster.
Chief Minister, a day before, had directed all DCs to ensure that no such open borewell exists in any of the districts and have asked them to submit a report within 24 hours.he also shared a helpline number 0172-2740397 from his official Twitter handle asking the people to share if they have any information about any such open borewells in their area.
Defending his government, Capt Amarinder said that rescue operations were handed over to NDRF soon after the district administration received information of the child falling into the 125-feet deep borewell at 4.15 pm on June 6. However, the district administration continued to extend all help to NDRF all through the rescue efforts.
Official spokesperson said that as per reports received by the Chief Minister so far, though the NDRF personnel were able to tie a knot around both the child’s wrists in less than 10 hours of arrival, the narrow diameter of the pipe caused the kid to get stuck, forcing them to give up this method. Meanwhile, the JCB and other machines that were rushed to the spot dug a pit to reduce the depth from which the operations were being carried out.
All possible technical support was also provided by the district administration but it took 46 hours to dig a parallel pit and lay pipes against its wall to prevent it from caving in. But problems with the angle at which the pipe was going in further obstructed the operation, necessitating some horizontal digging also, said the spokesperson.
According to the NDRF officials, no physical harm was caused to the child during the extraction process, which had to be conducted manually as use of machinery could have potentially harmed the child, especially because of the water requirement of such equipment.
LAPSES, OUTDATED METHODS ‘KILLED’ THE CHILD
Opposition, villagers are accusing the authorities for delays and not using proper techniques to rescue the child that led to his death.
Villagers claimed that ultimately he was pulled out from the borewell by clamps fastened to his hands. “If they have to use this method, they could have done it much before. What is the purpose of prolonging the family's agony,” said a villager.
“Locals had approached the Sangrur administration on Thursday night only and tried to convince them that they could retrieve the child with an iron pipe with a hook fixed on its top. But the administration did not allow this. On Monday night, the administration and the NDRF called the same person and pulled out the boy using the same pipe. Had they used it earlier, Fatehveer would have been alive today,” alleged the locals standing outside Fatehveer’s house while showing the pipe.
However, Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori denied the use of any such equipment saying that the “NDRF is a professional organisation and they had tied the child’s hands with a rope on Thursday night, but could not pull him out. The NDRF kept trying the same technique twice daily”.
“Since the NDRF teams had removed sand from the borewell, where the child was stuck at a depth of around 125 feet, through a parallel borewell it made space in the borewell.
The NDRF pulled out the child with the same clamps that were tied on the first day. NDRF officials said it was the toughest operation for them as earlier they had retrieved children from lesser depths,” he said.
Another villager said, “When the child was pulled out, he was already dead. His body had started to decompose. Why did the administration harass the family and prolong their agony by rushing him to the PGIMER, which is over 150 km away. They could have conducted the post-mortem at the Sangrur civil hospital itself when everyone knew that he had already died,” the villager said.
PROTESTS ERUPTED FOLLOWING DEATH
Tempers ran high in Sangrur district after the death of two-year-old, with the people blocking roads in protest and raising slogans against the government, demanding action against officials for the “delay” in rescuing the child.
The district authorities had to deploy additional police force in the district to prevent any untoward incident as the tempers ran high.
Locals alleged that the NDRF did not allow some locals who were experts in borewell digging to pull the child out earlier using the indigenous technique.
“There should not be any politics over the tragic incident. We under Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh took every possible step to retrieve Fatehveer,” said Cabinet Minister and local MLA Vijay Inder Singla, who had been camping at the site for three days.
OPPOSITION CORNERS GOVT
Accusing the government of “negligence”, the opposition cornered Congress-led Punjab Government starting apolitical slugfest over the tragic incident.
SAD president Sukhbir Badal termed the death a "daylight murder", saying that an “unprofessional” rescue operation led to the toddler's death while lashing out at the Chief Minister for indulging in “leisure and pleasure”.
He tweeted, “Fatehveer: this is a daylight murder of the most inhuman & beastly kind...There is no such thing as the government in Punjab. When the state is seething with pain & anger, Chief Minister is busy in leisure & pleasure in cooler climes. The govt remained absent
as the child lay dying. Unforgivable.”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Harpal Singh Cheema said that there were "lapses" on part of the state machinery in handling the rescue operation. Union Minister and SAD's Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal tweeted, “A great tragedy has befallen the family of Fatehveer...We must now resolve to take steps to ensure such a horrible fate does not visit any Fatehveer in Punjab ever again.”