The new sand policy under the Karnataka Minor Minerals Concessions Rules 2021 aims at streamlining procurement, supply and pricing while claiming to mitigate corrupt practices, but has left much wanting as regards environmental impact.
The construction industry is looking for easy availability of sand. In keeping with the new policy, the process of extracting sand from west-flowing Varahi, Sauparnika, Swarna and Sita rivers has begun in Udupi and Kundapur taluks as sand dunes here are in the coastal regulation zones (CRZ).
As per rules, sand extracted from local rivers/streams are permitted for local work. Sea divers who extract sand from the seabed in CRZs are permitted to extract sand, and in the non-CRZs too, but without using machines. Extraction from non-CRZ sand bars in Karkala taluk may begin soon, and it is believed that it will eliminate the dearth of sand in Udupi district in the coming months.
Under the new policy, at gram panchayats, the price of sand has been fixed at Rs 300 per metric ton (MT), while sand extracted from river beds and supplied to urban areas will be priced at Rs 700 per MT. The Mysuru Mines and Minerals Ltd and Hatti Gold Mines have been permitted to extract sand from river beds. Moreover, while the state government collects 50 per cent of royalty levied on sand, half (25 per cent) will be given to panchayats, which are also authorised to grant work permits for sand extraction. Environmentalists and commerce chambers members are critically questioning this, as it will mean the threat of politics and friction.
The rules stress on constituting district sand committees, headed by the deputy commissioner, with stakeholders including police, zilla panchayat CEO, Forest Department officials, which will meet once in two months to decide lease grants and mining work permits. Gram panchayat members that TNSE spoke to say the government should implement the sand policy effectively, with officials checking illegal transportation of sand to neighbouring districts to sell at higher prices.
“District authorities should deploy special officers at sand blocks where customers are cheated while weighing and also check for bribes,” they said. The government has entrusted the task of extracting sand from Kalyan Karnataka and Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka) regions to Hutti Gold mines. It has sought environmental clearance for extraction from 43 identified slots on river beds in these regions, after which tenders will be invited for sand extraction and distribution.
Sources in Kalaburagi said eight slots on river beds of the districts will be looked after by Hutti Gold Mines. Four slots on small ponds have been allotted to the gram panchayats, which will sell sand at the rate of Rs 300 per tonne and Hutti Gold Mines at Rs 700 per tonne. However, the policy extends decentralisation of sand mining procedures to such an extent that it has raised eyebrows over enforcement.
Illegal extraction of sand from the river bed is allegedly taking place in parts of Kundapur as complaints in this regard have reached the tahsildar’s office. Sources say sand is being illegally extracted from a sand dune in Sauparnika River at a spot which has not been identified for extraction by the committee.
Udupi MLA K Raghupathi Bhat who has held protests in the past demanding change in sand policy specifically for the coastal region, says the new sand policy will ensure sufficient supply of sand as extraction from non-CRZs is allowed now. Local bodies will decide on the sand dunes to be cleared in non-CRZs, he says.
Environmentalist Deepak Gala, too, says the new sand policy will not help remove corruption as gram panchayats have been involved in the new policy. However, Subramanya S Rao, president, Sonale Gram Panchayat in Hosanagara taluk, Shivamogga district, says, “Gram panchayats will be the deciding authority. It will reduce illegal sand mining and help the government earn more royalty. Gram panchayats will also be empowered financially too,” he feels.
FOCUS ON CONSTRUCTION THAN ENVIRONMENT
Experts says the draft of the new policy favours the construction industry more over environmental issues. According to the Mines and Geology Department, in Karnataka, 38 lakh tonnes of M-sand and 14-15 lakh MT of natural sand is utilised. There is a shortage of around 15-20 lakh MT annually. Manufactured sand (M-sand) is produced from crushing hard stones into small sand-sized particles, washed and finely graded for use as construction aggregate, and is considered as a superior alternative to riverbed sand. Experts say the shortage can be addressed with technological interventions, which the government is not keen to explore.
“There is a thin line between conservation and development. While the Central Government, at the COP-26 summit, is saying it will help protect island countries, the coasts here are being ignored. The policy favours the construction industry. Despite the presence of CRZs, extraction of sand is taking place. The problem is that there is no mechanism to keep check on the ground level regulations,” says Dr Venkatray Nayak, retired Professor of Marine Biology and Honorary Secretary, Uttara Kannada Zilla Vignana Kendra.
Conservationists say the new policy does not mention adhering to environmental rules — CRZs, eco-sensitive zones, buffer zones and protected areas — where mining activities are prohibited. As M-sand is obtained from quarries, a cap on this is also needed, says activist S R Hiremath. The government could have taken stern steps earlier and stopped illegal mining in Ballari. But it lacked political will. The same is happening now also. The government is supporting industries and areas like Raichur, river banks along Tungabhadra, Cauvery and others are being exploited, he pointed out.
UV Singh, retired forest department official, says in large infrastructure projects construction works M-sand cannot be used because of it’s coarse and natural sand is required. However, in some smaller housing projects, M-sand is being used because it is cheaper. With large projects happening, maintaining ecological balance is a challenge.
Singh said that while import of sand has now stopped, inter-state transportation is also banned, but illegal supply of sand from Mangaluru to Kerala is happening.
(With inputs from Ashwini M Sripad & Bosky Khanna in Bengaluru, Ramkrishna Badseshi in Kalaburagi, Prakash Samaga in Udupi, Mahesh Goudar in Bagalkot/Vijayapura, B R Udaya Kumar in Hassan and Marx Tejaswi in Shivamogga)