Even when miners get permission to extract a certain amount of sand, they often take around 100 times more than they are permitted. The problem with trying to halt illegal sand-mining is that there aren’t many substitutes for sand in construction. “The trick is to find an enviromentally-friendly subsitute for sand,” Debi Goenka, of the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust said. Until then, expect illegal sand mining in India to continue…
Illegal sand mining in India is something of an open secret but it has been brought under the scanner in recent days after a civil servant named Durga Shakti Nagpal was suspended from her post late last month. Ms. Nagpal had gained attention from the Indian media for her efforts to clamp down on the practice in the northern State of Uttar Pradesh. Within 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) of any construction site in India, there is likely to be sand mining going on along river banks and coastal areas, according to Debi Goenka, of the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust.
Sand is difficult and heavy to transport so construction companies prefer to source it from nearby areas, Mr. Goenka said, even from zones where it isn’t allowed. The sand-hungry construction industry uses the material to mix with concrete and for making bricks.
Almost all of this mining is happening without licenses because the demand is unbridled and the regulatory consequences are minimal, he said. “It’s a quick buck-making industry with very little investment. All you need is a truck, laborers, a driver, and a place to go and mine,” Mr. Goenka told India Real Time. “A portion of the profits keeps the police happy.” The environmental consequences of such mining, though, can be serious. These can include increased flooding as miners cart away the sand holding back river waters. “Indiscriminate and unregulated sand-mining causes erosion of the river bank and damages biodiversity,” Mr. Goenka said. The Supreme Court in February 2011 ruled that “sand mining on either side of rivers instream or upstream is one of the causes of environmental degradation and also a threat to biodiversity.”
Environmentalists, including Mr. Goenka, claim that politicians are sometimes directly involved in illegal sand mining themselves. “It’s going on under everyone’s nose,” Mr. Goenka said. Construction contributed 8.9 per cent to India’s gross domestic product in 2009, up from 7.4 per cent in 2005. According to the Planning Commission, investment in infrastructure needs to increase to 10 per cent of GDP by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, from 8 per cent five years earlier, ifIndia is to continue to grow. The Government has called for a trillion dollars of public and private investment into infrastructure in the next five years to help revive a flagging economy by creating sorely needed roads and airports, as well as jobs. If this investment comes through, the demand for raw materials such as sand will grow threefold, according to Priya Ranjan Swarup, director general of the Government’s construction industry development council.
In its February 2011 judgment on mining in Haryana in northern India, the Supreme Court said that the demand for sand continues to increase day by day because of continuous demand from building and construction. “[This is] placing immense pressure on the supply of the sand resource and hence mining activities are going on legally and illegally without any restrictions,” the judgment said. Sand is considered a “minor mineral” under Indian law, unlike coal, diamonds or gold which are classed as major minerals. The extraction of minor minerals is governed by State rather than federal laws.
According to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, which was amended in May 2012, those who want to mine sand must obtain a license from State authorities and pay a royalty on the amount they extract. These fees generally amount to about 8 per cent of the sale price. The State Government also has the power to make rules preventing illegal mining, and regulating the transportation and storage of minerals like sand. These can include putting in posts for checking minerals in transit and weighing the quantity being transported.
Government officials such as Ms. Nagpal have the right to search a vehicle if they believe any mineral has been extracted illegally. “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act,” the legislation says. Ms. Nagpal could not be reached for comment. The punishment for mining sand without permission is imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of up to 25,000 rupees (about $410), or both.
According to Mr. Goenka, of the Conservation Action Trust, even when miners get permission to extract a certain amount of sand, they often take around 100 times more than they are permitted.
The problem with trying to halt illegal sand-mining is that there aren’t many substitutes for sand in construction. One possibility is to use crushed construction debris, said Mr. Goenka, a practice that is starting to be adopted in the U.S. and Canada, but that is not yet commonplace because separating out what’s usable from what’s not, is a complex process.
“The trick is to find an enviromentally-friendly subsitute for sand,” he said.Until then, expect illegal sand mining in India to continue.