Look back at the decade: Sand

India faces sand scarcity leading to conflicts and illegal trade

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 29 December 2019

This decade the world woke up to another scarcity: sand. The second most consumed natural resource after water, excessive use of sand has driven rivers to dry; local ecosystems being ravaged. Such has been the impact that the UN Environment came out with scary report on its impacts on the planet’s health. India has been reporting widespread cases of violent conflicts over illegal trade of sand. We are in fact now importing sand for construction. Now there is a scramble to evolve alternatives to sand. Here's how DTE covered the issue:

A line drawn in sand 

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.

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. 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.

To put the brakes on illegal sand extraction, the Supreme Court, on February 27, 2012 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. 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. 

Also in the decade 


This war over sand has changed the map of Indonesia significantly as two dozen small islands are estimated to have disappeared since 2005. Eight of these islands used to be part of the Seribu Islands archipelago in Jakarta Bay.


India is importing river sand to satiate the growing demand of its construction industry and to keep soaring sand prices in check. But imports alone will not suffice without effective implementation of regulations and promotion of alternative construction materials.

NUMBer: 18kg Sand extracted per each inhabitant in the planet

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