Illegal sand mining in the river beds have been rampant across Andhra Pradesh. The demand-supply gap spawns sand mafias who often enjoy patronage of local politicians. Over the years, the unregulated mining has caused severe environmental damage to rivers Krishna, Godavari and their tributaries.
Reports suggest that over 2,000 truckloads of sand reach Hyderabad every day from the beds of the Krishna and Godavari rivers. Environmentalists and experts have warned that illegal mining is responsible for erosion and change in the flow of water.
Taking serious note of the problem, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed an interim penalty of ₹100 crore on the Andhra Pradesh government in April this year, for “inaction to prevent illegal sand mining” in the state and directed it to take urgent steps to prohibit unregulated mining.
The tribunal constituted a committee comprising experts from Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), National Institute of Mines, Dhanbad, IIT Roorkee and Madras School of Economics to undertake environment damage assessment.
After inspecting eight locations, the committee concluded that a total of 34,650 tonnes of river sand was being mechanically excavated from River Krishna in a day. It also pointed out that about 2,500 trucks and tractors were operated per day for transporting the extracted sand from these eight locations alone.
It highlighted the concerns due to de-siltation in the upstream of the Prakasam barrage in Krishna district, which was being permitted up to a depth of 25 ft. The committee noted that this may lead to erosion of the river bank.
The Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government has unveiled a new policy for sand mining which came into effect from September 5.
As per the new policy, the state-owned AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) Ltd will undertake sand quarrying and supply sand to the customers on behalf of the government.
The price of sand has been fixed at ₹375 per tonne. The stockyards have been set up in all 13 districts across the state, from where buyers can lift the required quantum after online booking.
The new policy aims at addressing issues of indiscriminate mining of sand, black marketing, hoarding, skyrocketing sand prices, artificial supply shortage and cross-border transportation.
The plan is to achieve sustainable sand mining by ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. It also aims at supplying sand at affordable prices and generating more revenue through its sale.
All vehicles carrying sand to stockyards and subsequently to end consumers will be equipped with GPS devices and registered with APMDC Ltd/Director of Mines and Geology.
The sand will be supplied to the end consumer from the specified stockyard at the price fixed by the government plus transportation charges.
The price of the sand should be credited directly to the treasury account of the state government through net banking/debit card/credit card/other online methods or through Mee-Seva centres by the customers.
- Sand extraction to be done as per approved plan and environmental clearance
- Mined sand will be transported to a specified stockyard
- CCTV cameras to monitor sand mining and vehicular movement
- Vehicles should be registered with APMDC/Director of Mines and Geology
- All vehicles will be equipped with GPS devices
- Stocking beyond stated limit and reselling is prohibited
- Stocking beyond stated limit and reselling is prohibited
- Transportation of sand beyond the state border is prohibited
- Sand price should be credited directly to treasury account of the state online
- Persons resorting to illegal transportation will be booked under the PD Act
- District officials will be responsible for such cases
During the election campaign, Jagan had promised that his party, if voted to power, would introduce a new policy to check illegal sand mining.
The ‘free sand policy’ was introduced in 2016 by the then TDP government headed by N Chandrababu Naidu, ostensibly to bring down the burden on consumers by withdrawing cess. Only transportation charges were collected from consumers, but it was alleged that it led to rampant illegal mining. Neither the government nor the consumer benefitted from the policy as the price skyrocketed from ₹2,000 to ₹10,000 per truckload. The transporters had formed a syndicate and dictated the price.
“The term ‘free sand’ itself was misleading. As per the old policy, only the cess was removed, resulting in a loss of ₹500-₹600 crore to the state exchequer. But, the transportation charges had to be paid by the consumer,” the Minister for Mines and Panchayat Raj Development, P Ramachandra Reddy said.
Soon after coming to power, the YSRCP government had formed a Group of Ministers (GoM) committee to frame the new sand policy to curtail hoarding, black marketing and bring down sand prices.
The government alleged that the old policy was pro-middlemen and was affected the interests of genuine consumers.
The GoM, representing Revenue, Finance, Home, Panchayat Raj and Rural Development, Mines and Geology and Water Resources ministries, finalised the new policy to ensure “sustainable sand mining in tune with environmental regulations, affordable prices and raising revenues to the state exchequer.”
Environmental assessment must
Experts have called for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before allowing quarrying or excavation, as per the Supreme Court’s earlier order.
“The principle of sustainable sand mining is that the quantity of sand mined from a stretch in a year should not exceed the quantity deposited. In the absence of scientific studies, whatever policy adopted in a hurry is not going to help,” the former Union Energy Secretary and environmental activist EAS Sarma said.
“As far as the policy on the supply of sand, once mined, is concerned, AP’s new guidelines will help eliminate middlemen and ensure that sand reaches the genuine users at a reasonable price. However, the proof of the pudding lies in its eating. We should wait and watch as to how it works,” he said.
In Telangana, the State Mineral Development Corporation (TSMDC) engages contractors through competitive bidding in sand mining. The sand is then sold through the Corporation.
According to official estimates, sand consumption in the state is about 2.56 crore metric tonnes (1.60 crore cubic metres) per annum. Of this, the TSMDC supplies around 1.76 crore metric tonnes (1.10 crore cubic metres) while the remaining sand requirements are met from neighbouring states.
At present, the Corporation is extracting sand from over 26 reaches at various locations across the state. About 80 per cent of the sand is being obtained through desiltation of reservoirs. About 369 stockyards have been set up near these reservoirs to store the sand and supply to the consumers who can make online booking.
The government has earned ₹886 crore in 2018-19 through online sale of sand.
Besides using drones for monitoring mining of major and minor minerals along with sand, officials have been using technologies like GPS and RFID tags for vehicles transporting sand and other minerals. There are also plans to use satellite-based technology for identification of illegal dumps.