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India’s struggle with illegal sand mining

Sand mining in India Source: Wikimedia/Sumaira Abdulali

World’s second most populous country India is struggling to stop unauthorized sand mining.

India’s sand mining problem is so prevalent that it has developed into a black market that continues to exploit millions of tons of this commodity annually, in an open loot of the riverbeds, canals and beaches sand is being drained by illegal means.

The illegal sand trade has significant consequences; the housing is becoming unaffordable for the common man and the ecosystem is exploited for personal gains of the ‘sand mafia’.

According to a recent report on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent, India’s sand business employs over 35 million people and is valued at well over $126 billion per annum.

Rege’s research estimates that the sand mining black market could be generating revenue of approximately US$16 to 17 million a month.

In one of country’s biggest scams, politicians and their business allies stand hand in hand to exploit country’s booming construction industry.

According to India’s Construction Industry Development Council, which guides the government on construction-related policy — the country consumes 500 million tons of the commodity annually and that's only the legally recorded amount.

With a booming construction industry which is expected to grow 8% yearly for a decade, the sand supply currently fails to meet demands.

The supply problem could partially be attributed to the environmental limitations imposed to protect ecosystem or due to the existence of ‘illegal means’ to create a supply chain.

Although the Union Environment Ministry has taken some serious steps to curb the problem by drafting guidelines in September 2015 on how to crackdown on the illegal practices of sand mining but the problem remains far from being resolved.

In the northern state of Punjab, illegal mining has its own consequence.

The un-regulated sand mining has resulted in the erosion of the river banks resulting in increased flooding and causing a severe threat to biodiversity.

Additionally, the state is failing to generate substantial revenue that is spilling through illegal sand mining. Punjab’s current debt is about Rs. 1.12 lakh crore.

Punjab’s newly elected chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh once said that the sand mafia was robbing the state, by Rs 5 crore per day.

With names of top leaders of the previous SAD-BJP government linked with the “sand mafia”, the newly elected government is expected to set a probe committee to catch the people associated with its black marketing.

According to a NDTV report, four years ago, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ordered a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate illegal mining in Punjab.

Last year, the court observed, "The officers of the state of Punjab are either complicit or in connivance with persons responsible for illegal mining." 

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