It's a sad template in India; a tragedy, and then a knee-jerk reaction from the authorities. Unlike many other States, Tamil Nadu heeded a wake-up call. And here's what happened.
In a narrow lane in North Chennai, 11 years ago, a five-year-old boy Tamilmani was returning from school. He couldn't reach home, as he died after falling into an open borewell. After a 58-hour agonising struggle, all that could be pulled out from the 35-feet uncovered, unfinished borewell was his lifeless body.
The boy's death led to an outcry. All that it took to stop these horrifying accidents and save precious lives was a law, a few simple precautions and a little alertness from the authorities.
The Jayalalithaa government passed the Tamil Nadu Ground Water Development and Management Act in 2003. It made mandatory for people to get permission from the government before sinking borewells, for the Water Supplies department to intimate the local authorities and for the local authorities to monitor the activity. The onus has been on the Metro Water Department, the Corporation or District Collectors to ensure that all discussed or unfinished borewells are properly covered.
Anshul Mishra, Collector of Madurai says, "We ensure that on the same day itself, the borewell is closed with a lid. With today's technology, within 10 hours, you can dig up to 900 feet!"
But in Tamil Nadu you hardly have to dig too deep to get water. Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa's brainchild in 2002 - compulsory rainwater harvesting has improved the water table. What's more, the diameter of wells that's usually just four to six inches and casing pipes that juts out for at least two feet above the ground level act as safeguards. R Thyagarajan, a borewell contractor, reveals that, "In Chennai, we need to dig borewells of a diameter of only six inches. We get water with that. There is no need to dig beyond that diameter."
It is an all-round effort and involves inter-departmental coordination. And instead of passing the buck, effective police patrolling as a preventive measure has helped. Mr Nataraj, who had served both as Chennai Police Commissioner as well as Director of Fire and Rescue Services, points out that, "Policemen are the ones on the streets. They have the resources to alert the control rooms which are connected to both metro water and metro transport departments."
Clearly, Tamil Nadu has proved that you don't need rocket science to ensure that borewells don't turn into graves for unsuspecting little children. A proactive, common sense approach will do.