Traditional communities can mine sand in coastal areas: MoEF

Ministry order has no provision to curb illegal sand mining in river beds

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Wednesday 16 November 2011

Traditional communities living near sea coasts can now mine sand, according to a memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) last week. The note, issued to all the district collectors across the country, specifically states that any form of sand mining in coastal areas, including in river beds and estuaries, has to be done manually without mechanised equipment.

The office memorandum issued on November 8, 2011 by additional director of MoEF, E Thirunavukarasu, is in line with the guidelines on the management of sand bars and their removal. It states that removal of sand bars “has to be done by manual method (sand collection in non mechanised dinghies or small boats using baskets or buckets by human beings) in various coastal states”. The memorandum, however, has no provision to curb large-scale illegal sand mining in the river beds.

MoEF officials say the decision to issue the memorandum was taken after closely perusing the request of the Karnataka government and provisions of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2011.

Earlier this year, the Karnataka government had approved a policy on sand removal, which entails removal of sand bars manually, taking the aid of traditional communities in coastal areas or water bodies. This followed a Karnataka High Court order banning mechanised sand mining from April 2010 to September 2011. The order was passed on a public interest petition by various environmental groups. Chief Justice J S Khehar, in his order dated April 1, 2010, had said environmental clearances have to be obtained from the state department of forests and environment on the basis of the new sand mining policy of the state public works department (PWD).

According to the state policy, manually removed sand bars have to be acquired by  PWD and brought to a common place for auctioning. The department officials hope all the loopholes of sand being mined by the sand mafia, especially active in southern parts of coastal Karnataka, would be solved with this new policy. Kerala and Maharashtra have also banned mechanised sand mining.

Even though sand as a construction input forms just one per cent of the construction cost, real estate developers are hit by the policy of the Karnataka government. “The 70 per cent gap in demand and supply of sand in metros such as Bengaluru and Mangalore is pushing up prices of the property by Rs 75,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Since our projects cannot wait, we have been purchasing sand from the black market, which costs Rs 65,000 a truck,” says a real estate developer of Bengaluru.

Since October 22, sand miners from Southern Karnataka, who use mechanised equipment, have been on strike and are refusing to supply sand in protest against the ban on mechanised mining. The agitation is being spearheaded by the Karnataka Sand Truckers' Association (KSTSA). The association's office bearers estimate that 95 per cent of sand mining business has been affected by this ban. President of KSTSA, B Kodandaramu, in a letter to state government, says that on an average 5,000 trucks were continuously ferrying sand for the real estate business in metros of the state. In March, 2011, former Chief Minister of Karnataka, B S Yeddyruppa, reportedly stated in the State Assembly that about 500,000 tonnes of sand is needed in the state each month. Kodandaramu has threatened that the strike will go on if mechanised removal of sand bars is not allowed in the state.

Activists demand complete ban on sand mining

T Peter of All India Fish Workers Federation, however, says sand mining and removal of sand bars should be completely banned, mechanised or manual. “It will be a loss to the traditional communities, who are now in this business, but effects of sand mining are long-term. It affects our fish catch. This kind of manual removal of sand bars by traditional communities would not work as there are powerful barons, who will indirectly benefit through such moves,” adds Peter.

The memorandum asks state government to study accumulation of sand bar, its removal, and the processes with the help of satellite images, global positioning system and others. “It shall be ensured that the permits are not accorded in areas identified as eco-sensitive zones, fish migratory and breeding grounds. The permits shall be given taking consideration the local circumstances and ecological settings,” the memorandum says.

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