Where there is a river, there is sand. Called a minor mineral, it fulfils a major requirement of the booming construction industry. No wonder, many senior bureaucrats and politicians in power are hand-in-glove with local contractors to make huge gains from illegal sand mining. Even as the exchequer suffers, little attention is given to the long-lasting scars sand mining leaves on ecology. Communities fight on the river banks and in courts to keep sand reserves from getting exhausted.
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava travelled to Madhya Pradesh, Anupam Chakravartty to Punjab, M Suchitra to Andhra Pradesh and Ashwin Aghor to Karnataka to examine the murky business of sand mining
IN his 11-year career as a civil servant, Girish Sharma has been transferred 11 times. The joint district collector of Sehore in Madhya Pradesh is not incompetent. But his work hurts the state’s political set-up. He would have been sent to another district on January 9 had he not moved court.
The government was irked with Sharma’s investigation into sand mining in Sehore, also the home district of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The government was perhaps certain that no district collector would implement its directive against illegal mining issued a month ago. But Sharma did and prepared a report on illegal mining activities in the district.
|Mafia at work
Till about 15 years ago, Morena district in Madhya Pradesh sheltered the country’s most feared dacoits in the ravines of Chambal. Just when the memories of kidnappings, ransom and encounters were fading, a new infamy surfaced. On March 8, Narendra Singh, an IPS officer, was crushed to death in broad daylight by a tractor loaded with illegally mined stone when he tried to stop it.
Singh, who started his service in 2009, was posted as sub-divisional police officer in Banmore near Morena in January. Within 45 days, he nabbed about 50 tractor trolleys of illegally mined sand and stones. “He complained of inadequate force. He was a brave boy. He used to write patriotic poetry and read about revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh,” Singh’s father Keshav Dev Singh says.
Senior district officials may call it an “isolated incident”, but it is a trend no one in Morena can miss. “We thought we were done with the tag of living in a dacoit region. But it has been replaced by the mining mafia,” says Asha Sikarwar, a Morena-based social activist. “Almost every family in the villages here owns a tractor trolley and a gun. Mining is the only source of livelihood. The community is so united that the entire village comes together to attack us if we try to stop them. The community forms a strong vote-bank for politicians,” says a senior police officer.
The Supreme Court has banned sand mining in the Chambal riverbed in Morena to protect the endangered ghariyals. But the sand mined from the river not only fulfils the district’s demand, but also that of nearby Gwalior, Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
To improve its image, the government had launched a month-long campaign against illegal sand mining between December 15, 2011, and January 15, 2012. All district collectors were asked to form teams of officials from mining, revenue, forest and police departments, which would take steps to stop illegal mining. In most districts, these officials seized vehicles and registered cases just for records. But in Sehore, the district collectorate decided to take the order at its face value.
Sharma sent a team of officers to a sand mine leased out to Madhya Pradesh State Mineral Corporation (MPSMC), a state-owned agency, in Ambajadeed village on the banks of the Narmada. The team, led by Nasrullaganj sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Manoj Saryam, went unannounced and found illegal sand excavation on 51.3 hectare (ha) by Shiva Corporation Limited (SCL), a Rajasthan-based mining company, a contractor of MPSMC. It had illegally extracted 1.9 million cubic metre of sand with a whopping market value of Rs 378.7 crore. During two more operations, the team found that SCL had far exceeded its allotted 4 ha mining area each in Badgaon and Saatdev villages. It was illegally mining in 38 ha in Badgaon and 5 ha in Saatdev. Together, it accounted for sand worth Rs 112 crore. Saryam issued a show cause notice to the company through MPSMC.
The team also found that mining lease areas in the district were not demarcated on the ground before being assigned to the contractors. This resulted in actual mining areas far exceeding their allotted area. Lease for minor minerals were sanctioned without newspaper advertisements. This included all eight sand mines subleased to SCL by MPSMC. The government did not assess the illegally mined sand, causing great loss to the exchequer in terms of royalty, sales tax and income tax.
Sharma’s report, presented to the state government on January 9, also pointed out irregularities in stone mining by crusher operators. He recommended immediate cancellation of licences of SCL. Even before the report was submitted, news of illegalities in Sehore had become public, causing uproar in the Legislative Assembly. The leader of the opposition, Ajay Singh, set up a committee to probe the illegalities. Its report, released on January 16, found that SCL had illegally mined 661 ha against the allotted lease of 16 ha in Sehore’s Nasrullaganj sub-division.
Soon after Sharma submitted his report, the government transferred him. He moved the Jabalpur High Court seeking a stay. The court cancelled Sharma’s transfer orders, but the government took away the charge of mining from him. On March 1, the government renewed MPSMC’s lease for Ambajadeed village.
In fact, SCL enjoys a monopolistic share of MPSMC’s mines. About 60 per cent of the total mines in Madhya Pradesh have been allocated to the corporation. MPSMC says it has 464 mines. Of this, SCL has sublease in more than 250. “It is difficult to believe that one company got contracts of more than half of MPSMC’s mines. It smacks of favouritism. The probe team found illegal mining in just three mines. The sand extracted was worth Rs 490 crore. One wonders how much wealth the company has looted in the state,” says Ajay Dubey of Prayatna, a non-profit based in Bhopal.
The company’s near monopoly on sand mining has affected the market, says Soumitra Roy of Vikas Samvad, a non-profit. “Bhopal-Indore corridor is a construction hub. SCL has formed syndicates with builders and transporters in this corridor. They decide the price of sand in the state,” he says. In the last two years, the price of sand has increased from Rs 2,400 per truck to Rs 7,000 per truck, a Bhopal-based builder says.
“Nobody knows about SCL’s stakeholders. It was involved in illegal mining in the chief minister’s constituency without any fear. This shows that powerful people at the top have interest in this business,” says Singh, the leader of the opposition. On some occasions, the government has openly defended the company’s interest.
In January, the SDM of Budhni in Sehore seized 150 truckloads of illegally stored sand near SCL’s mines. The district collector advertised for its auction. On January 23, S K Mishra, managing director of MPSMC, wrote to the Sehore collector to cancel the auction and release the sand to the corporation. Mishra is also secretary to the state mineral resources department and secretary to the chief minister. His position suits MPSMC and, in turn, its contractors.
In January this year, the collector of Chhatarpur advertised for auction of 158 leases of minor minerals. Chhatarpur is on the Uttar Pradesh border and has 103 sand mines. This sand goes to Uttar Pradesh and fetches a good price. On February 15, MPSMC wrote to the mining department requesting it to ask the Chhatarpur collector to cancel the auction and transfer the sand mines to the corporation. Despite protests from contractors and panchayat bodies, the department transferred the mines to the corporation the next day.
Mining hot spots
Legal or illegal, sand is mined without restraint in most parts of the country. Some states where illegal mining has been widely reported
Rivers Ambika, Purna, Kaveri, Tapi and Khapra are severely affected by illegal sand mining. It is forming cavities in the riverbed and accelerating water salinity. This is resulting in diminishing agricultural produce
In October 2010, a new policy made gram sabha’s permission for sand mining essential. Now, sand mining projects also need environmental clearance. The creeks at Thane, Navi Mumbai, Raigad and Ratnagiri are most affected by mining
The Uniform Sand Mining Policy does not allow mining in Coastal Regulation Zones and prohibits use of machinery. The rivers affected are Cauvery, Lakshmanateerta, Harangi, Hemavathi, Nethravatai and Papaganii
Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act, 2001, permits mining in areas that will be managed by a committee. The rivers affected are Bharatapuzha, Kuttiyadi, Achankovil, Pampa, Manimala, Periyar, Bhavani, Siruvani, Thuthapuzha, Chitturpuzha
5. TAMIL NADU
A policy ensures that quarrying in government poramboke land and private patta land can only be undertaken by the government. The rivers affected are Cauvery, Vaigai, Palar, Cheyyar, Araniyar, Kosathalaiyar, Bhavani, Vellar, Vaigai, Thamiraparani and Kollidam
6. ANDHRA PRADESH
A policy allows only manual labour and bullocks for mining. Contractors can be allotted sand through open bidding by a panel headed by district joint collectors. Rivers affected are Godavari, Tungabhadra, Vamsadhara, Nagavali, Bahuda and Mahendratanaya
Despite public agitation, sand is mined extensively. Districts like Jajapur are constantly in the grip of sand miners and contractors. Odisha’s coastline comprises deposits of ilmenite, garnet, sillimanite, rutile, zircon, monazite, magnetite and pyriboles
8. WEST BENGAL
Ruled by the mafia, stone quarrying in Birbhum’s Mohammad Bazaar is widespread. Minerals found in beach sand include Ilmenite and sillimanite
Illegal mining is rampant in Bhagalpur, Banka, Munger, Jamui, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura, Patna, Bhojpur, Saran, Rohtas, Bhabhua, Aurangabad, Buxar, Gaya, Nalanda, Navada, Siwan, Jehanabad, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Bettiah, Supaul, Motihari, Madhubani, Kishanganj, Saharsa and Madhepura
Illegal sand mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Haridwar is a major worry for the inhabitants of Matri Sadan ashram, the abode of Swami Nigamanand who died while on protest fast. Illegal mining along the Gomti is another cause for worry for the farmers of Telihat village
Sand mining is carried out along the Dansari river in Dimapur to boost the booming construction industry in the state. Dansari is the largest river in the state and has the highest concentration of sand
12. MADHYA PRADESH
State exempts sand mining from environmental clearance. Mining areas are not demarcated. Therefore, mining far exceeds the allotted area. A strong nexus between contractors, politicians and bureaucrats facilitates illegal mining. It is rampant in the rivers Chambal, Narmada, Betwa and Ken
Construction has grown over the years, yet there is no official figure on how much sand the country requires or produces
India has the world’s third largest construction business after China and the US. Malls, houses, offices and flyovers have sprung all over. The 12th Five Year Plan projects an investment of 10 per cent of the national GDP, or Rs 45 trillion, in infrastructure. Is the massive scale of sand mining that India has seen in the past few years a direct consequence of its growth?
Mumbai-based construction industry expert Amit Rampure explains: in 2010, investment in the construction sector contributed eight per cent to the GDP. Every one rupee investment in the construction industry for manufacturing cement or for mining sand causes Rs 0.80 increment in the GDP as against Rs 0.20 and Rs 0.14 investment in the agriculture or the manufacturing industry. Economic activity in this sector generally creates 4.7 times increase in income and 7.76 times increase in employment, Rampure says in his independent report on investment in the construction industry in 2011. Despite a worldwide economic slowdown, construction in India grew by over seven per cent between 2009 and 2010. The sector’s worth is now assessed at over Rs 4,000 billion. The country produces about 250 million tonnes of cement every year. Yet, there is no official figure on the quantity of sand required or produced.
According to the Minerals Resource Book (MRB) prepared by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), in 2010, production of silica sand was 2.28 million tonnes in 2009 -10. “Production decreased from the previous year by 19 per cent due to lack of demand from cement plants and labour problems,” states the report. An IBM official told Down To Earth that the figure shows a decrease because there are no estimates of sand mined illegally. The figure was based on the information given by the state-allotted quarries and mines.
Figures released by the Union mines ministry show that sand contributes only 9.4 per cent to the total minor minerals mined in the country valued at Rs 18,734 crore. In 2009 and 2010, India ranked 12th in sand and gravel production. Andhra Pradesh (39 per cent), Gujarat (17 per cent), Rajasthan (14 per cent), Maharashtra (13 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (7 per cent) are the leading producers of sand.
MRB states that about 62 per cent of the total sand production was from 15 silica sand mines and two associated mines that also produce other minor minerals. These mines have the capacity to produce more than 50,000 tonnes annually. Thirty-three per cent came from 56 sand mines and one associated mine, each producing between 5,000 and 50,000 tonnes. The remaining five per cent of the output was contributed by 62 sand mines each producing less than 5,000 tonnes annually.
An analysis of the cement consumption pattern is essential to determine the demand for sand. Concrete is the largest synthesised material which has a per capita consumption of 1.5 tonnes per annum in India, says S K Manjrekar, former president of the Indian chapter of American Concrete Institute. It generally comprises one part of binder (cement), two parts of aggregate (sand), four parts of additives (crushed stone, gravel) and half part water.
On an average, one person uses 200 kg of sand per year, states a report by the Centre for Techno-Economic Mineral Policy Options (C-Tempo), a society registered under the mines ministry. International Standards Organisation (ISO-14688) grades sand as fine, medium and coarse. Construction experts say that in northern India, especially the Indo-Gangetic plains, good quality sand is available in plenty. However, due to the region’s alluvial terrain coarse aggregate is scarce. This challenge manifests in the opposite form in central and southern India where availability of good quality fine aggregate is a constraint.
Mineral in short supply
Legal or illegal, sand continues to be a scarce commodity. The construction sector, mostly real estate, constantly complains of acute shortage of this minor mineral.
- On an average, one person uses over 200 kg sand in a year
- Production of silica sand was 2,283 tonnes in 2009-10
- Concrete (1 part cement + 2 parts aggregate + 4 parts grit) is the largest synthesised material which has a per capita consumption of 1.5 tonnes per annum in India
- Under 12th Five Year Plan road infrastructure will use about 150 million tonnes of sand and power infrastructure about 90 million tonnes
The realty sector was unable to build houses planned in the 10th Five Year Plan. When the 11th Five Year Plan began in 2007, there was a backlog of 24.7 million houses. By the 12th Five Year Plan, the backlog increased to 42 million units. The Union Ministry of Urban Development projected a sand shortage of 91,666.7 million tonnes by 2011-end.
The real estate sector is not limited to housing alone. Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi, along with their satellite towns, contribute 70 per cent of the country’s commercial space. Tier II cities—Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune—contribute 21 per cent of the share. Other investment-grade real estate developments in Tier III cities add nine per cent of the commercial space.
In the non-housing sector, too, there is no estimate of sand requirement. Experts with the Construction Industry Development Council say it could be twice that of the housing sector.
Under the 12th Five Year Plan, road infrastructure would require 75 million tonnes of cement and power infrastructure about 45 million tonnes. Considering the formula of mixing two parts sand into cement, road infrastructure needs about 150 million tonnes of sand and the power infrastructure about 90 million tonnes of sand.
The National Highway Development Programme (NHDP) seeks to construct 45,000 km of roads. For 2011-12, the National Highway Authority of India has awarded construction contracts for about 6,500 km under NHDP. The authority plans to award contracts for 7,300 km in 2012-13.
A line drawn in sand
Sand mining impacts the river’s ecosystem. Can court orders salvage the environment?
To put the brakes on illegal sand extraction, the Supreme Court, on February 27, made environmental clearance mandatory for all mining sites. Minor mineral mines will now have to undergo the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the court said. Till then, EIA was conducted only for mining major minerals like bauxite, coal and iron ore and for minor minerals mined in more than 5 hectare (ha).
The order came after the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, found large-scale illegal mining in five districts of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Even the mines with legal status had not applied for an environmental clearance.
“In many cases, the sand excavated (legal and illegal) is not subjected to any kind of environmental impact assessment,” says N B Narasimha Prasad, executive director of the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management at Kozhikode. This is when riverbed mining has an impact on the ecosystem throughout the stretch of the river, right from the generation of sand to its deposition at sea coasts, he says.
In June and August last year, the Haryana government issued auction notices permitting quarrying, mining and removal of sand from in-stream and upstream of the rivers Yamuna, Tangri, Markanda, Ghaggar, Krishnavati and Dohan without an EIA. Most of these sites measured less than five ha, but were contiguous. Reacting to this, the court noted: “Extraction of alluvial material within or near a riverbed impacts the river’s physical characteristics like stability, flood risk, environmental degradation, loss of habitat and biodiversity. It is not an answer to say that extraction is in blocks of less than five hectares and separated by a kilometre because its collective impact may be significant.”
|The next choice
The construction industry is slowly recognising alternatives to sand. While some call for deriving sand from crushing stones or using fly ash, many see prospects in recycling construction waste. Still others say desiltation of reservoirs can save the environmentally fragile riverbeds.
According to the American Concrete Institute (ACI), India wastes 30 per cent of the sand it uses. The construction industry generates 10-12 million tonnes of waste per year, says S K Manjrekar, former president of ACI. This can very well complement the demand.
The tensile and flexural strength of recycled construction material is 85-95 per cent of the natural concrete, says the paper authored by former IIT professor S K Singh and P C Sharma, former professor with Structural Engineering Research Centre at IIT. The durability of recycled concrete is found in agreement with BIS specifications, states the paper title “Use of recycled aggregates in concrete”.
Sand obtained from desiltation of major reservoirs in the country can meet the requirement of the construction industry for the next 10 years, says a study by the Centre for Earth Research and Environment Management at Ernakulam. While this can potentially help reduce unsustainable mining of riverbeds along with increasing the storage capacity of dams, it can also earn good revenue for governments.
Fly ash, a byproduct of the thermal power sector, is preferred for construction of durable housing as a lightweight aggregate, says Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council. Fly ash is fine and absorbs moisture fast. It causes less damage during earthquakes. However, experts are now studying its carcinogenic affects.
Studies conducted in Kerala and Karnataka show the effect of mining on floodplains of small river ecosystems is alarming. In 2009, the Centre for Earth Science Studies at Thiruvananthapuram, conducted research on southwest India’s three river basins—Chalakudy, Periyar and Muvattupuzha. It found negative impact of sand mining on land stability, soil structure, river bed, surface water, in-stream flora and fauna, sand bars, fishing and agriculture in the region. A total of 8.76 million tonnes per year of in-stream sand and 2.76 million tonnes per year of floodplain sand was removed from the midland and lowland reaches of these rivers, the study found. This was to meet the needs of the fast developing urban-cum-industrial centre, Ernakulam, and its satellite towns.
More than 60 per cent of the wells in the floodplains are drying up. This is because excessive sand mining is lowering the riverbed. “The fluvial landforms like sand bars within the river channel are modified or even totally erased from midlands. Pits of various dimensions have formed in riverbeds due to indiscriminate sand and gravel mining,” the study states.
The rate of failure of irrigation wells in areas where sand was mined was 46 per cent in 2005, says a study conducted along the Uttara Pinakini river in Gauribidanur, Karnataka. Compared to this, in non-mining areas the rate was 29 per cent. The study was conducted by the department of agricultural economics, University of Agriculture Sciences, Bengaluru. On an average, only 2.1 million litres of water could be drawn from wells in mining areas compared to 3.3 million litres from wells in non-mining areas.
Sand in the riparian areas serves as a spongy layer and helps recharge groundwater through percolation of water from different layers of sand. “When sand mining becomes intense, vertical and lateral movement of water is checked affecting groundwater recharge,” the study explains.
The past few decades of indiscriminate mining have led to destruction of riparian vegetation which acts as resting and nesting ground of many migratory birds. The in-stream fish wealth of rivers is also decreasing, says the research by the Centre for Earth Science Studies.
Three decades ago, mining began along the Kali river in Karwar, a township in Karnataka’s Uttara Kanada district. The Kali flows into the Arabian Sea forming an estuary. Mining there has forced the fisher community to migrate on a large scale because fish catch has reduced by about 90 per cent, claims Uday Shankar Pose, president of Fisheries Cooperative Society, Karwar. The problem was compounded about a decade ago when mechanical excavation of sand began.
Manual excavation is the only scientific way of excavating sand from rivers, says V N Nayak, professor at the department of studies in marine biology, Karnataka University. Only accumulated sand should be excavated from estuaries, he says.
Despite a ban on mechanised sand mining by the Karnataka High Court in 2011, about 250 boats carry sand from the Kali to parts of Karnataka every day. The carrying capacity of one boat is equal to that of three trucks, says Pose. Movement of heavy boats and excavation machinery causes massive water, sound and air pollution driving fish away, says Mukesh Harikant, fisherman at Karwar. They also cut the fishing nets. “The monthly expenditure on net repair is about Rs 1 lakh. It has become impossible for us to continue our traditional business,” he says.
Goa witnessed a construction boom around five years ago because of which prices suddenly shot up and many influential people started getting attracted to the illegal business, says B S Pai, advocate based in Karwar fighting against sand mining. “They stationed JCB machines on river banks to excavate, load and unload sand. This led to massive erosion of the river banks affecting agriculture. Small islands within the river also got destroyed,” he adds.
High courts of many states have tried to salvage the sand mining sector, but have met with little success. With growing realty and infrastructure sectors, a middle path is required that does not ruin the riparian ecology.
State governments, which have so far abetted illegal mining, voluntarily or involuntarily, need to become accountable. But foremost, this common mineral should no longer be treated as plain vanilla but be given the same stature as other prized minerals like iron and bauxite.
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