A round-the-clock rescue operation that lasted more than 109 hours and involved nearly 750 men, ended in anguish on Tuesday as rescuers failed to pull out two-year-old Fatehveer alive from a 125-feet-deep borewell at Sangrur’s Bhagwanpura village.
The child was rushed to PGI Chandigarh by ambulance, but was declared dead on arrival. The autopsy report said he had died three to four days back due to “hypoxia consequent to suffocation and smothering in a borewell”. Fatehveer had fallen into the nine-inch-wide borewell at 4 pm on June 6 while playing in the fields owned by his family. The borewell had been dug by the family in 1984, but left unused since 1991.
The administration’s efforts to pull him out through a rescue shaft dug parallel to the borewell had hit a roadblock on Monday, after which it went back to its initial plan of clamping the child’s hands with a rope and lifting him out of the pit. The clamping strategy had been tried and abandoned on June 7 over fears of Fatehveer getting harmed.
The child was retrieved from the borewell at around 5 am by one Gurinder Singh of Mangewal village, which is 20 km from Bhagwanpura. Gurinder does borewell digging work.
Taking to The Indian Express, Gurinder said: “I had approached the DC, Sangrur on day one of the incident and said that I can help in this work, but I was not allowed. Finally, I was called on the sixth day and I did the job in 15 minutes only.” DC Ghanshyam Thori said, “The operation was being done by the NDRF. They are a professional agency and many volunteers were roped in to help. I am thankful to all of them. Gurinder was also one of them. The team of NDRF had been trying to clamp the child from day one and the first hand was clamped within two-and-a-half hours of the operation’s start and the second hand was clamped within 10 hours of the operation. Clamping was tried 116 times and it was tried Tuesday morning as well when it worked and child was taken out. We were thus working on both options — clamping as well as retrieving the child through a parallel shaft.”
The operation involved over 200 Dera Sacha Sauda volunteers, 400 policemen, 100 government officials and 32 NDRF men. Soon after the news of death of the child spread, protests started in several parts of the state. Mansa, Sangrur, Sunam observed complete bandh and residents blocked state highways. While protesters blamed the state government for the failed operation, Fatehveer’s family appealed for calm.
Rohi Singh, the toddler’s grandfather, in a video message said: “You all have supported us in the past and please support us even now. I request you all with folded hands, please don’t do any protests, don’t resort to any violence. Each and everyone of you helped us and the even administration tried their best. For god’s sake, let Fatehveer rest in peace.”
Fatehveer’s body was handed over to the family at 11.15 am by PGIMER doctors and it was taken to Bhagwanpura village via a chopper. Thousands from several villages attended his cremation. After the child’s last rites were performed, the kin alleged that he was pulled out in a merciless manner. A person who claimed to be his paternal uncle said: “We trusted the administration, but they killed our child. We want action against DC and SSP. The child was taken out mercilessly by using a hook which pierced his body. We demand an inquiry.”
Similar allegations were being raised by villagers as DC Ghanshyam Thori briefed the media Tuesday morning. Thori, however, said,”I had a detailed talk with incharge of this operation from NDRF, Om Parkash Bishnoi, who said that no harm was caused to the body of the child while taking him out.”
DC maintained that the Army was in touch with NDRF from day one in this operation and they had approved the operation. “They neither had any expertise, nor machinery to carry out such an operation and hence NDRF was the only specialised force to handle it,” said Thori, while replying to allegations of why Army was not called. His second birthday was on June 10.
Fatehveer was the only child of his parents and was born seven years after marriage of Sukhwinder Singh to his wife. The family had covered the borewell using only a jute bag. Bricks placed on the jute bags had been removed on the day of accident as a car had been parked in that area for washing. Later, the family forgot to put bricks back in their place.
After news of Fatehveer’s death, Akali Dal asked people to change their WhatsApp profile pictures to black with text ‘Rosh: RIP Fatehveer. Punjab Sarkar Murdabad’. Punjab CM Amarinder Singh in a tweet said, “Very sad to hear about tragic death of young Fatehveer. I pray that Waheguru grants his family the strength to bear this huge loss. Have sought reports from all DCs regarding any open borewells so that such terrible accidents can be prevented in future.”