It was 98 hours after Sonu, a playful two-year-old, fell into a 150-feet-deep uncovered borewell that the rescue team recovered his lifeless body. Perhaps gauging the public mood, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended two officers of its Jal Nigam Board for negligence and announced Rs 1 lakh as compensation for his family. The Agra administration also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. In the capital, President Pratibha Patil condoled Sonu’s death and expressed her concern over the regularity with which children have literally fallen victim to the blunders of people in charge of our civic infrastructure. Such responses have become banal. But will these horrific and pointless deaths be stopped?
This is the second incident in the district of Agra of a child falling into a borewell in four months. Recently, a two-year-old girl was rescued after 26 hours. In 2006, Prince became a ‘national victim’ after the media covered his two-day rescue operation at Kurukshetra in Haryana. Considering that the gaping hole in Agra was right in front of Sonu’s house, two questions need to be forcefully asked. One, is our administrative and regulatory structure crumbling? Two, does anyone really care about the most basic urban infrastructural issues like covering a borewell or a manhole? Such hellholes are also part and parcel of Class I cities. Certain parts of Delhi resemble lunar terrain. Other cities have building construction firms dumping their steel rods and materials on the roads, while markets regularly encroach into public spaces. Yet, we live in a delusional world that we are on the way to getting our ‘Shanghais’.
To become a modern town or city — never mind a world-class city — there has to be a deterrent for dangerous apathy. Suspending officers and doling out cash is a standard post-mortem drill. What is required is regular inspections and effective monitoring so that such incidents don’t happen over and over again.