Historically, illegal and unscientific sand mining have taken a toll on rivers and the ecosystem around them. Sand mafias have continued to thrive under political patronage. They work under the cover of darkness and leave a trail of destruction. Excessive sand mining has altered river beds and even forced the water bodies to change their course. River banks have faced erosion, with flooding becoming a new normal. Some rivers have even died a natural death.
On the flip side, many states in the country reel under an acute shortage in the supply of sand. As per a back-of-the-envelope calculation, for every tonne of cement, the construction industry needs about six to seven times more tonnes of sand and gravel to prepare the concrete mix. This shows the massive requirement of sand in a country that is constantly under development. There are other issues too, related to quality and pricing. As per a report by the United Nations Environment Programme, India and China lead the pack of countries that have taken sand mining to an unsustainable level far exceeding the replenishment rate.
This newspaper’s recent articles on illegal sand mining at the Cooum River mouth, near the Marina beach in Chennai, have brought the spotlight back on the issue. The administration has immediately swung into action to probe the illegal activities. In Tamil Nadu, the state PWD is the sole authority to mine and sell sand. Some states, including TN, now also promote import of m-sand or crushed stone sand from countries such as Malaysia. A steady supply of sand is vital for the smooth functioning of the real estate and construction sectors.
But the highly volatile freight charge and exorbitant landing cost may be acting as a deterrent. Recently, TN’s PWD minister said steps would be taken to check the quality of the m-sand, manufactured and sold by private players, and stop the sale of poor-quality m-sand. It is high time that state governments looked for alternative sources of sand since a supply shortage can debilitate the economic growth of the nation. They have to beef up the vigil and protect our rivers. We owe this to the future generations.