After almost eight days of continuous effort, the bodies of three labourers who were buried under tons of sand while digging a well in a Tharparkar village were recovered early on Thursday.
Due to the unbearable stench emanating from the dead bodies, four persons who took part in the excavation fell unconscious in the well, hours before the bodies were brought to the surface.
“We did all this on our own,” said Vikyo Bheel, a professional well-digger who had volunteered to help recover the bodies. The use of conventional tools to dig to a depth of over 50 feet caused the delay, he added. They brought the first body to the ground by around midnight and the last was pulled out by around 2:30am.
According to Vikyo, the wells in Tharparkar are dug by labourers who are not certified from any government body. “It is a skill that is transferred from one generation [of diggers] to another,” he told The Express Tribune.
Labourer Raichand Bheel, 35, and his novice helpers - 15-year-old Altaf Bheel and 16-year-old Mansingh Bheel - were buried alive while digging a well in the Unaro Bheel village of the Nangarparkar tehsil on July 16. The digging of the well was funded by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Thardeep, according to the villagers.
The village residents and the aggrieved family members complained against both the NGO and the government for not helping them recover the dead bodies. However, Tharparkar deputy commissioner Asif Ikram claimed that he visited the spot twice and also sent excavators to help recover the bodies.
The Custom Healthcare Society also joined the rescue work in the last few days and according to its provincial coordinator, Gulzar Khan, the society’s volunteers worked right till the end.
The boys, Altaf and Ramsingh, were laid to rest on Thursday. Raichand, who leaves behind a widow and four children, was cremated. The families are blaming the NGO for its negligence and supply of substandard material. “The NGO should be questioned for their negligence,” demanded Gulu Bheel, father of Altaf.
Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani listened to the complaints against the NGO and the district administration and assured the families that action would be taken against Thardeep.
However, according to advocate Lajpat Bheel, the families have yet to make up their mind about lodging an FIR against the NGO. “I have heard that Bheel Intellectual Forum’s leader Harji Bheel is mediating for a compensation deal between the families and the NGO.”
However, he felt that the state should pursue a criminal case against the officials of Thardeep.
The district commissioner informed the media that he sought a written explanation from Thardeep a few days ago but is yet to receive a reply.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2014.