How sand mining mafia is plundering beaches and creeks
By The Khaleej Times International
Sailing down south from Mumbai along the Konkan coast, one comes across several lovely beaches, devoid of tourists, hotels and resorts and other commercial activities. Unfortunately, these days many of the beaches are also devoid of sand, thanks to reckless mining by a powerful mafia, controlled by local goons and politicians.
For years, Maharashtra’s coastal region has been under assault by the sand mining mafia, fuelled by a furious hunger for natural sand from the construction industry in Mumbai. While the country’s commercial capital has been witnessing explosive activity on the construction front, the beaches, creeks and river beds along the coast have been ravaged by miners.
Says Sumaira Abdulali, a leading environmentalist, who also heads the Awaaz Foundation: “The entire Thane district has been denuded of sand over the years. Now the mining mafia is active in Navi Mumbai and Raigad district.”
Last year, Sumaira and her foundation filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court, seeking a ban on mining activities along the coast. The court banned mining in the CRZ (coastal regulation zone) area, forcing the operators to start mining sand from creeks and river beds.
Last week, the court extended the ban across the state, following an intervention by another NGO, which referred to the enormous damage being caused along river beds, leading to flash floods and damage to the homes of nearby residents.
Sumaira points out that the Maharashtra government has been blissfully ignoring the rampant violation of environmental laws by operators extracting sand. “We are not opposed to sand mining, but we have been urging the government to regulate the industry and take it out of the clutches of the mafia, which has close links to politicians.”
The environmental activist, who had been attacked by the mafia a few months ago when she was surveying a beach in Raigad district, had urged the state government two years ago to regulate the sector. “Experts from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) had also prepared a report, warning of the dangers of excessive sand extraction,” she says.
The government appointed a committee to recommend changes, but it was headed by a minister who had strong links to the sand extraction business. Consequently, the committee has failed to come out with new regulations, resulting in the state-wide ban on sand mining by the court.
The building industry is furious with the ban, citing that all major development activities, including construction of infrastructure projects, will come to a standstill in the absence of sand. But Sumaira says that there are alternatives and many developers, especially those putting up high-rise buildings, use ‘manufactured’ sand, not the natural one.
They collect debris and produce an alternative to natural sand; the process costs money, unlike in natural sand, where the only costs are extraction and transportation. “But why should society subsidise the cost for the benefit of the construction industry?” asks Sumaira.
“Villagers living along rivers are finding their homes being washed due to soil erosion, following sand mining.” Likewise, using debris collected from demolished buildings, would solve the problem of disposal of these materials, encouraging recycling, she points out.
The Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI) has appealed to the state government to resolve the matter at the earliest, as construction activity is grinding to a halt.
It has sought tax exemptions for alternatives, such as manufactured sand, and also called for import of sand from neighbouring states. Maharashtra consumes more than 65 million tonnes of sand a year.
But activists warn that the entire coastal region in India, especially the west coast, will be denuded of natural sand, if the sector is not regulated. Governments should bring about transparency in issuing licences to sand miners, impose restrictions and ban extraction in ecologically sensitive areas.
Otherwise, most of Maharashtra’s beaches will resemble lunar surfaces, with the sand mined completely, leaving only a rocky shore.
The Bombay High Court banned sand extraction: Deccan Herald
By The Deccan Herald.
The Bombay High Court banned, on September 24th 2010, sand extraction across Maharashtra, including those holding licences, observing that the activity was damaging river beds and causing flood threats.
Acting on a petition, a bench headed by Justice B H Marlapalle passed this interim order and directed the state government’s Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) to inform this decision to all the district collectors throughout the state forthwith by fax or e-mail.
“The extraction of sand all over Maharashtra has become a serious issue posing environmental degradation challenge as well as apprehension to cause damage to river beds thereby causing serious threat of flood or diversion of water flow,” the judges noted.
“It is also alleged in a report of former Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) that auctions for sand extraction have resulted in heavy losses to the state treasury. Hence, by way of an ad-interim order, we direct sand extraction all over Maharashtra even on the basis of existing licences be stopped forthwith until further order,” the bench observed.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Sagar Shramik Hatpati Walu Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit alleging that sand extraction was causing great environmental degradation.
Ban on Sand Dredging Has Hit Projects: Builders
The real estate sector in Maharashtra foresees a loss of Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) due to the ban on extraction of sand by the Bombay High Court. The realty industry has sought the intervention of the state government to tackle the crisis.
The state government is also likely to lose a royalty of Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) per year if the ban continues, according to a senior official from the revenue department. Maharashtra needs nearly 600 million tonnes sand a year for realty development.
Sunil Mantri, president of the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (MCHI), told Business Standard the ban would affect not only project costs but also labourers.
He said projects, in many instances, had been stalled due to the lack of construction-grade sand. According to him, the realty sector is likely to face a loss of Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion), as projects have been delayed and in some cases, stopped due to the ban.
“The industry will be incurring a huge amount in lost time and in locating alternative sources of supply. Even here, there seems to be a ban on importing sand from outside Maharashtra,” Mantri said.
“We appreciate the high court’s environmental concerns, but a total ban on sand mining across all of Maharashtra is perhaps too strong a measure.”
The revenue department official, who did not want to be quoted, admitted that the ban had completely halted the extraction of sand.
“In certain cases, the respective district collectors are taking actions against illegal extraction. Recently, a high-level committee looked into various alternatives and submitted its report to the revenue department. It is under consideration.”
“The prices of natural sand are already two-three times of crushed sand. Now, post-ban, these will rise even more dramatically. So, the prices of construction will rise by about two-three per cent in the short-term, as sand constitutes around 8-11 per cent of our costs,” said Ranjit Naiknavare, member of national executive committee of Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Association.
He said the sector would have to go in for artificial sand and combine it with crushed sand for various activities. According to him, artificial sand is around four to five times costlier and this will drive up prices even more.
“This may increase prices marginally, but if it’s in the interest of environment, there’s no dispute on this issue. We are completely with the state and the high court on this issue,” Naiknavare said.
Nainesh K Shah, MCHI office bearer and executive director at Everest Developers, said due to the ban, costs were going to rise as imports from Gujarat and other states, if allowed, would lead to huge transportation cost.
“We hope costs do not rise to such an extent where project costs are impacted. We can only hope that the state government will intervene,” Shah said.
Mantri said the real estate sector was looking at alternative sources of supply and substitutes.
The realty sector had met with similar situation in February when the Maharashtra government had banned dredging activities.
The Builders’ Association of India : Projects have come to a standstill
By The India Express.
In the wake of recent Bombay High Court order imposing a state-wide ban on sand extraction from river-beds, developers in Mumbai have asked the state government to allow them more time to switch to some other alternative means.
The Builders’ Association of India (BAI), the apex body of builders and contractors, on Monday said that following the court orders all construction projects have come to a standstill since sand is an important component in the cement mix used for construction of buildings, roads and bridges. BAI president Bhagwan Deokar said the impact of the ban would be soon felt on projects such as monorail, Metrol, redevelopment of cessed buildings and slums in addition a a slew of other infrastructure as well as private construction projects. “We have approached the chief minister urging him to look into the matter seriously and recommend the use of an alternate material in place of sand,” he said.