SANGRUR (PUNJAB), June 11 (AGENCIES): A two-year-old child stuck in a borewell shaft here was pulled out dead Tuesday morning, bringing a four-day rescue operation to a tragic end. Rescue workers retrieved Fatehvir Singh from the 150-foot disused shaft in Bhagwanpura village at 4.45 am, after an effort that lasted nearly 110 hours amid diminishing hopes of the boy being brought out alive.
A waiting ambulance, carrying doctors and a life-support ventilator, carried the toddler 130 km away to Chandigarh’s Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER). Doctors there said he was dead on arrival.
A post-mortem examination indicated that the death took place “a few days back”, the hospital said in a statement. The death triggered fresh protests with local residents blocking roads, accusing authorities of botching up the rescue operation.
Amid criticism from opposition parties over alleged lapses, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked the state’s disaster management group, headed by the chief secretary, to come up with recommendations to deal better with such situation in the future.
Fatehvir had stepped on a disused shaft, covered with a piece of cloth, on Thursday afternoon. After the post-mortem, a helicopter arranged by the Punjab government brought the toddler’s body back to Bhagwanpura.
Family members and other villagers struggled to hold back tears as the body was placed in a small wooden coffin before being consigned to the flames. The child had turned two on Monday, when he was still stuck at a depth of 125 feet in the shaft.
Rescue workers had dug along the shaft in their effort to reach the boy. The body was brought out at 4.45 am, an official said. The toddler was taken to the PGIMER amid police security, Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ghanshyam Thori told agencies.
There was police deployment at the PGIMER also. A small group of protesters had gathered at the hospital, condemning the “delay” in the rescue operation.
As the news spread about Fatehvir’s death, villagers raised slogans against the government.
They also blocked roads including the ITI Chowk, demanding action against officials responsible for the “delay”. There had been similar protests on Monday as well.
When the child’s body arrived from Chandigarh, it was first taken to his home, allowing family members and others to pay their respects.
Relatives expressed anger at the authorities.
“They didn’t use the proper technique to rescue him early on. Trial and error methods were adopted for days. Where were the modern methods and technology?” a relative said.
Villagers claimed that ultimately he was pulled out from the borewell by clamps fastened to his hands.
“If they had to use this method, they could have done it much before. What was the purpose of prolonging the family’s agony,” said a villager.
Another villager said, “When the child was pulled out, he was already dead. His body had started to decompose. Why did the administration harass the family and prolong their agony by rushing him to the PGI, which is over 150 km away.”
“They could have conducted the post-mortem iat the Sangrur civil hospital itself when everyone knew that he had already died,” the villager said.
The toddler’s parents were inconsolable over the death of their only child. Relatives and locals thronged their home. ]
Fatehvir fell into the disused borewell shaft while playing in the fields at Bhagwanpura village around 4 pm on Thursday.
His mother tried to save him, but failed, officials said.
Later, a massive rescue operation, including members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), was launched to bring the child out.
Rescue workers managed to supply oxygen but no food or water could be provided to him, officials said.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has expressed grief.
“Very sad to hear about the 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 (deputy commissioners) regarding any open bore well so that such terrible accidents can be prevented in the future,” he said on Twitter.
Condolences poured in from other political leaders as well.
Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal tweeted, “Fatehveer: this is a daylight murder of the most inhuman & beastly kind.”
“There is no such thing as government in Punjab. When the state is seething with pain & anger, CM is busy in leisure & pleasure in cooler climes. The govt remained absent as the child lay dying. Unforgivable,” he said.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Harpal Cheema claimed there were “lapses” on part of the state machinery in handling the rescue operation.
Union minister and SAD’s Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal tweeted, “A great tragedy has befallen the family of Fatehveer. My heartfelt condolences to the parents. May Akal Purakh grant them strength to bear this irreparable loss.”
“We must now resolve to take steps to ensure such a horrible fate does not visit any Fatehveer in Punjab ever again,” she said.