The 17 long hours, during which six-year-old Ravi Bhill was stuck eight feet inside a 200-foot-deep borewell, tell the story of the tenacity of the boy who lost his mother only seven months ago.
Ravi, the son of Pandit Bhill, a road construction worker, fell inside the borewell at around 4.30 pm on Wednesday, The incident took place at Jadhavwadi area of Ambegaon taluka’s Thorandale village, around 70 km from Pune city. The spot where the borewell was dug is barely two metres away from an under-construction road that connects Jadhavwadi to Thorandale. The borewell, drilled less than two weeks ago, is located on the farmland of Namdeo Sadashiv Jadhav and is meant to supply water for farming.
“Ravi was playing around the place while we were working. There was a gunny bag filled with soil at the opening of the borewell. I think Ravi either sat on it or moved it while playing. He fell inside the borewell along with the gunny bag. When we couldn’t see him for a few minutes, we started searching for him and realised he had fallen inside the borewell,” said his father Pandit.
For the first eight feet, the diameter of the borewell was around a feet, but it became narrower beyond it. Ravi was stuck at the point where the borewell becomes narrow.
Initially, a police team tried to take Ravi out by using a rope, but his lower limbs were stuck under the gunny bag and there was a chance that he could get injured in the process. So, police decided to call in the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The NDRF team, based near Talegaon, reached the spot at around 8 pm.
Local authorities, later joined by the NDRF team, dug a parallel pit to take the boy out. After a 13-hour-long rescue operation, Ravi was taken out of the borewell at 9 am on Thursday.
Deputy Commandant with the 5th Battalion of the NDRF, Alok Kumar, who headed the 31-member rescue team, said, “It needs to be said at the outset that the tenacity of the boy was phenomenal. It is only because of his grit that he was rescued. He was definitely scared, anybody would be after getting stuck in a small and deep space like that. He was crying sometimes but in between, he was responsive. Before we reached, local authorities and doctors had sent in an oxygen line, thus keeping the air around him breathable.”
When asked about the challenges during the operation, Kumar said, “There were two major issues, because of which the rescue effort took this much time. One was the rocky layer below the four-five feet level of the borewell. The drilling and excavation from the side had to be done very carefully. And the second reason was the fact that the boy was stuck from waist down. There was a gunny bag of soil which had fallen with the boy. His lower limbs were stuck under the layer of soil and that bag”.
The NDRF team and Pandit maintained a steady stream of communication with Ravi during the rescue effort. “While the digging was on, we were continuously talking to the boy. The Marathi-speaking team members and his father were, from time to time, giving him instructions, like asking him to close his eyes and mouth, or cover his head with his hands. He was following them. Our people are trained to do this work but the kind of patience the boy displayed was astonishing,” added Kumar.
The rescuers made the first physical contact with the boy around 3 am. The rescue efforts were also being monitored by senior officials of the police force and revenue department.
Local residents said most of the equipment that the NDRF team had brought were heavy and used only for the initial work. Finally, a small drill, along with a hammer and chisel, were used in the last stage of the rescue operation, to take the boy out while ensuring that he didn’t get injured. It was the arduous life they lived that had made Ravi tough enough for such an ordeal, said his father.
“Initially, when the drilling created vibrations, Ravi started crying and I consoled him. He kept calling me and his elder brother… At one point, he said we should bring a dumper to take him out. We gave him water thrice during this time. I know my son is tough. I guess it is because we live such difficult lives that he has become tough.
We are like those serpents on the ground. We may get hit by stone sometimes, but we can survive harsh conditions,” said Pandit.
Ravi has two elder brothers. Their mother Anita passed away from an illness seven months ago in Jalgaon, after which the family moved to Pune in search of work. Ravi and his brothers are looked after by Pandit’s sister Sunita. The family belongs to the tribal Bhill community. Dr Ganesh Pawar, medical officer at the sub-district hospital in Manchar, who was one of the attending doctors at the site, said, “While oxygen was given with the help of a tube, we also gave him water a few times along with electrolytes. After being taken out, he was in a state of shock but stabilised soon. Primary scans have shown no major injury. But he will be observed for a couple of days more before being released.”
Inspector AK Kharade of Manchar police station said, “We are conducting primary inquiry into the negligence that led to the accident and an offence will be registered. The borewell has now been filled with soil and has been closed.”