The bodies of three labourers who were buried alive while digging a well for a village in Tharparkar on Wednesday have still not been pulled out.
All efforts to recover the bodies which are lying 50 to 60 feet below the ground are being hampered by sand dunes, lack of rescue skills and required machinery.
The incident took place two days ago in the remote village of Unaro Bheel, Nangarparker. The labourers were identified as 35-year-old Raichand Bheel, Altaf Bheel, 15, and 16-year-old Mansingh Bheel. The teenagers were cousins and new to the profession. They were working on a well from the inside and the concrete well rings ruptured. This allowed the sand to deluge the well
The residents of the area told the media that Raichand was hired by an NGO to build the well as they were financing it. The villagers complained that substandard materials and unskilled labour was being used to build the well. “Unlike the usual size of about three-feet in diametre, the well they were digging had a diametre of eight-feet,” said Lajpat Bheel, a villager. He added that the NGO did not provide the labourers with steel bars to make the concrete blocks and had not even given them enough cement.
Altaf’s father, Gullu Bheel said that Raichand had asked his son for assistance.
Several people from nearby villages converged at Unaro Bheele to help with the digging process - they only had two cranes and a dumper at their disposal. Their presence in the village for two days made the arrangement of meals and water very difficult. A fire tender had to be brought to the village for water.
By Thursday afternoon, the two cranes - one sent by a salt mine contractor working near the village and another hired by the villagers, gave up after digging about 20 feet deep and returned. By the evening another crane was called but it suspended work due to darkness.
The villagers complained to Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Makhdoom Khaliluz Zaman, who came to the village, that the district administration was offering no help. Sardaro Bheel, a village elder, was furious that two days had passed but they had yet to receive the government’s help.
“There are heavy excavators being used in the open pit mining in Thar,” he said. “If government officials had any heart, they could have easily arranged those for our use so we could dig out the deceased.”
Talking to the media, Zaman said that he had asked officials to send heavy excavators. He had also announced jobs for family members of the deceased.
Wells are an important source of water in the area as it is mostly an arid desert region. The residents are dependent on sub-soil water for drinking and domestic chores. The ground water is mostly availed by means of open wells.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2014.