Monday morning in Chhattisgarh’s Piharid village began with all villagers switching on their borewells and operating hand pumps continuously — to draw out water from a pit that was dug for a borewell. Their aim: to.
On Monday, more than 200 men were at work, trying to reach Rahul, who remains stuck 62 feet under ground since Friday. Their challenges range from groundwater level, unstable rocks, snakes and scorpions hiding in crevices, and inclement weather.
On Friday, when Piharid residents Lala Ram Sahu and wife Geeta Sahu returned home, they found their eldest son Rahul missing. Rahul is deaf and mute, and also has developmental disabilities. After looking for long, they eventually realised he had fallen down a pit that was dug for borewell. Sahu said the pit was dug a few days ago and left with the mouth open when it didn’t yield much water. “We dug up to 80 feet but there was very little water. I had planned on getting it covered when we dug another hole,” the worried father said.
Sahu owns a small shop and cultivates the field behind his house, for which he needs water.
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The rescue operation started Friday evening. The hole is barely a couple of feet wide on the ground and widens as the depth increases, officials said.
Earlier, district and state-level rescue teams considered pulling him up by throwing down a rope but found it difficult to communicate the plan. “He is taking food we are sending through cables but not holding the cables,” one rescuer said. As NDRF teams reached the site late Friday, JCB machines were brought to dig parallel to the pit. By Sunday, the government had roped in a robotics expert; a high-duty machine to cut through rocks was sourced from, about a hundred km away.
A team of Army and NDRF are also working at the spot.
While the plan to use robot had to be shelved after the machines didn’t work on wet, slippery soil, rescue teams from SECL, SAIL, BALCO and NTPC set about testing soil strength, leakage of gases and other possible flaws.
Meanwhile, water started gathering in the shaft, possibly due to the digging nearby and change in pressure. Drops of water were trickling through the shaft from Friday night, and by Monday morning rescue workers realised that water had filled up to Rahul’s neck.
Collector J P Shukla, who has been at the spot since Friday, ordered borewells of the entire village to be switched on to minimise water in the shaft. “We have announced in the village to not stop the borewells and have cleared the immediate rescue site to make the process efficient. The boy will be rescued soon,” he said.
The biggest challenge for rescue workers is the topography — thick slabs of stones surround the pit and digging through them is a slow process.
By late Monday evening, all machines were put aside as NDRF personnel geared up with oxygen tanks and torch head gear. “We are going to dig the last seven feet manually, as the machines are producing vibrations that might make the entire structure unstable,” an NDRF rescue worker said.
Sitting for over 60 hours in knee-deep water, Rahul has shown courage, rescuers say. “He is eating, sleeping and even helping get water out of the shaft. His family is trying to talk to him through the hole and the camera we have sent in,” an SDRF member said.
“Sab ki pariksha hai (it’s a test for all of us). We just want our child to be back safely. That’s what the whole village is praying for,” Shyama Bai, Rahul’s grandmother said. CM Bhupesh Baghel has been personally monitoring the progress of rescue and talking to the family on video call every day. He is also updating details on social media and assuring people that Rahul will be saved. A 105-km green corridor has been created between Piharid and Apollo Hospital in Bilaspur, where Rahul will be taken after evacuation.