Money in Sands

Illegal sand-mining is a new menace that affects almost every state of the country. On September 5 a 55-year-old Punjab woman was allegedly crushed to death by a tractor for objecting to illegal sand mining in her neighbourhood. The Punjab and Haryana High Court banned illegal sand and stone mining from the riverbeds of Satlej in the Shahkot and Nakoden areas in November 2012. But who is listening? Nobody. Sand lords in league with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats observe the court order in its breach. In truth the scale of mining has increased many-fold to meet the ever rising appetite of the construction industry. On 13 June 2011 Swami Nigamanand of the Matrasadan Ashram in Haridwar district died after a prolonged fast demanding an end to sand mining and stone crushing in the course of Ganga river. Swami’s death drew media attention but there ended the matter. Of late heavy machinery is being used to fill up truck after truck while destroying the rivers once and for all. Ganga, Yamuna and their tributaries are dying because of large scale sand mining in contravention of all laws of the land. People living on the river banks know the ruthlessness of sand mafia. They cannot speak out apprehending brutal retaliation. And political parties, even the left parties simply remain passive, allowing ecological and human disaster to continue unabated.

Illegal sand-mining is big business. And Maharashtra’s illegal sand mining business is estimated at Rs 10,000-15,000 core annually. The state government collects Rs 1052 crore a year, through royalty and penalty on minerals. Thane, Raigad, Nashik, Jalgaon and few other districts adjoining Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are thriving in illegal mining, led by the known sand mafia with wide political connection. The Union Government of India has announced a moratorium on mining in coastal Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. In contravention of the Maharashtra Minor Mineral Extraction (Development and Regulation) Rules (2013), sand is mined illegally during the night or early day break hours. Illegal mining, by sand mafia, is conducted in and around cities, in creeks or river beds. The gap between demand and supply for sand, especially in Mumbai, has increased due to ‘constraints’ on sand mining. Builders and developers have to procure sand, from other states at higher prices. The recent stay on sand mining on river beds, as per the order of the National Green Tribunal, has put the building and construction industry in a qaundary, as sand is an essential input for construction. For the last few years, crushed stone and finely grounded concrete have been tried out, as an alternative for sand.

Come what may, illegal sand mining is likely to engulf more areas and rivers because sand is money. And stakeholders are powerful while affected villagers have nowhere to go for redness. Some NGOs are making some noises about illegal sand mining without succeeding to compel the authorities over the grievances of the sand mining victims. Rapid pace of urbanisation is the root cause of illegal sand mining and the Centre is hell bent on massive urbanisation to show the world India is growing.

Vol. 46, No. 11, Sep 22 - 28, 2013

Your Comment if any