It was truly commendable the way the army, the police and the fire brigade carried out the operation to rescue Vandana, the two-year-old who had slipped 45 feet into a deep borewell in Hulaspura village in Agra district in Uttar Pradesh. It was a harrowing experience for the child who was trapped in the borewell for 27 hours as well as those who were involved in the rescue operation.
However, with the travails of the accident over now, one must not ignore two aspects of the whole incident. The good thing about it is that the rescue personnel dug up a huge 50-foot ditch next to the borewell in a single day to carve out a tunnel to reach the trapped girl. This was a major success.
I say this because for the last so many years, the government has been constructing and renovating lakhs of rain water harvesting structures all over the country by spending thousands of crores of rupees under different rural development programmes. Hardly any of those structures has become a permanent asset for the community and contributed towards their livelihood. This is definitely the unfortunate case at least in the KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) region of Orissa, where I have travelled extensively.
While watching Vandana’s rescue operation on television, I was amazed at the speed at which the rescuers, supported by the locals, dug up the ditch which, in fact, looked like a huge rain water harvesting structure. The cost of digging up such a structure by a rural development programme would have taken months and wasted several times more funds, without creating any permanent asset for the community.
Now the grim aspect of the Vandana story is that the water table in her village has depleted so drastically that one has to dig a borewell of 180 feet without much success. Does this ring any alarm bells for the country at large?
First it was the 5-year-old Prince who fell into a tubewell in 2006 in Kurukshetra, Haryana. Last week, it was Vandana. Should we wait for another child to slip into a well and go on to dig another huge ditch? Or should we include the ‘Hulaspura Method’ in the government programme and create thousands of permanent assets in the shortest possible time to collect rain water?