The Looming Crisis of Illegal Sand Mining in India

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From endless beaches to vast deserts and expansive playgrounds, sand appears to be an infinite resource, and is not often thought of as a rare commodity. Deceptively plentiful, sand is the second most consumed natural resource on Earth, after fresh water. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) cites that the usage of sand greatly exceeds its natural renewal rates. A key ingredient in concrete, glass, asphalt and electronics, sand plays a crucial role in supporting urban development projects, and the demand for this increasingly valuable resource is unlikely to let up in an era of rapid urbanization. Current development trends are fuelling a dangerous tipping of the already unstable relationship between sand supply and demand. A part of the supply deficit can also be attributed to the fact that desert sand, though widely available, is too smooth and fine-grained to be used for commercial construction purpose, and the ‘good’ sand is typically found only in ecologically sensitive areas, such as along rivers and coastlines.

In India, the paucity of sand is so grave an issue that organized crime groups have emerged as illegal suppliers of sand, carrying out mining operations in blatant disregard of government directives. An unprecedented urbanization sprawl and consequent construction boom has transpired into an open loot of the riverbeds across many states to meet the insatiable demand for sand.

To ensure that sand is mined in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner, the government requires the prospecting mining operation to be under a lease, and within environmental safeguards. Lease-holders are required to work within the provisions outlined in their leases, such as the depth and area of digging, and volume of material extracted. The limitation on the amount of sand that can be mined legally, coupled with the time-consuming process of acquiring a lease, has led to rampant illegal mining operations across the country to fulfill the demand of sand.

A documentary by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 2017 claimed that illegal sand mining operations in India fetched as much as $250 million (INR 1,611 crores) in profits every year. This figure was arrived at after speaking to various central and state government bodies. However, exact losses from sand are hard to quantify because there is no system in place to effectively track and measure the scale of illegal mining operations. The lack of data makes it challenging for the government to crackdown on these operations.

The ramifications of illegally mined sand are many, and extend beyond revenue losses to the government and inflated sand prices making housing unaffordable to the common man. The impact it has on the environment and ecology is far greater, and graver. Indiscriminate extraction of sand has resulted in the erosion of river banks, causing flooding, and a severe threat to biodiversity. Excessive instream mining destroys aquatic life by polluting the water body with sediment particles, also resulting in contaminated water supply to the locals.

The sustainable mining of sand in accordance with government directives requires the process to be made transparent from end to end through the intelligent use of technology within an ecosystem that connects all stakeholders involved in the mining and distribution process of sandt4u’s unique IoT- enabled platform solution has transformed the conventional and manual sand administrative system into a transparent, simple and comprehensive digital experience that connects all stakeholders in the movement of sand from source to consumer destination, giving each of them real-time visibility and immense value by being a part of the ecosystem.

Rapid urbanization continues to drive the unregulated exploitation of sand to feed an enormous building boom. This situation is untenable as it poses a serious threat to the delicate ecosystem of India’s rivers, on which millions of people depend. It is imperative to put into place – solutions that will safeguard India’s golden grains and facilitate its responsible management.

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