Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The sad story of sand mining in Andhra Pradesh

Sand is minor mineral for name sake. More than 40 percent of development investment during past 50 years in India has been on construction activity which yet remained as one of the most corrupt sectors. Construction activity and sand dredging under pins development engine. However, there are only a few state approved areas from which licensed contractors could mine the sand after receiving due environmental clearances. These had been several laws governing this activity. Consequently the process of acquiring the ‘limited resource’ became expensive and time consuming for builders. Hence numerous illegal sand miners guarded by dangerous mafias cropped up in almost every State including Andhra Pradesh.

Impacts of indiscriminate extraction

Indiscriminate extraction of sand from floodplains or river banks destroys the flora and fauna and decreases fertility of the land. Similarly dredging of river beds and sand mining kicks up loose sediments, thereby pulling the river water and causing damage of aquatic life. Near extinction of the species of crocodiles gharials in India is reported due to sand mining. Additionally, the course of the river is altered and so is the velocity of flow of water. Without enough sand in the river bed to act as a buffer, the flow velocity increases leading to erosion of adjoining banks and downstream flooding. Infrastructure like bridges and embankments become vulnerable to damage due to such dredging through scouring action. Water pollution in general may result in concentration of heavy metals and chemicals like arsenic sulfuric acid and mercury.

It will dry up river channels, wells

Another important impact of sand mining is on water in the shallow aquifers. The river bed sand absorbs a large proportion of the water available from infiltration of the stream runoff (during monsoon) and acts as the shallow aquifer during summer months when the rivers do not carry any flows. The sand bed in the river also provides the hydraulic connectivity between the river channel and the shallow sub-soil on both side of the river, continuously recharging wells in the adjoining areas. Removal of this sand exposes the bed rock and results in drying up of the river channel and wells in the surrounding areas.

According to a study in Kerala indiscriminate dredging that occurred in Pampa river bed to an extent of four to six kilometres was likely to result in adverse implications on water availability by 2050. The deep sponge of sand that acts as reservoir to charge ground water wells and aquifers if reduced force wells to be dug to deeper depths and thus affect the quality of water.

Illegal mining in 3 district rampant

Extensive illegal mining had been prevalent in the State of Andhra Pradesh, especially in districts such as Guntur, Krishna, Srikakulam and East Godavari. 2000 trucks of sand used to be transported to Hyderabad every day. With the foundation stone laid for the new capital Amravati, there was surely a surge in sand mining activities. The city was set to develop along the banks of the Krishna river, which has abundance of sand deposits. Andhra Pradesh had strict policies when it comes to sand mining. Under the Andhra Pradesh Water, Land and Tree Act (APWLTA) 2002, instream mining is only allowed where the thickness of sand is above eight meters. It is strictly banned for sand with thickness below two meters and near structures like dams, bridges etc.  In 2006, the government prohibited the use of heavy machinery as well, allowing only manual labour or bullocks in sand reaches (areas where miners are allowed to remove sand by the State). However, minors in the state had carried on as before, gravely depleting groundwater and sand reserves. The administration then hoped to cut out middlemen by providing free sand from existing quarries to consumers, who simply had to pay for transportation costs. The new policy introduced barred people from hoarding the free sand and aimed at to ensuing stringent monitoring. Thus the intentions were good.

River Krishna most affected

The sand deposits had gone down significantly on the banks of River Krishna due to indiscriminate and illegal sand mining at several places in the three districts of Krishna, Guntur and Kurnool. Unless here is a check on the sand mining it could badly affect the river ecology. The growing demand for sand and illegal sand mining is taking a toll on the existing sand deposits of the river. If the indiscriminate lifting of sand is continued then the existing sand deposits particularly in Krishna and Guntur districts as well as Krunool were expected to last for not more than four years.

Illegal sand mining villages

In Krishna district, sand stretches located in the villages adjoining the river Krishna, viz.., Chandarlapadu, Kanchikacherla, Mylavaram and Jaggaiahpeta have earned the dubious distinction of rampant illegal sand mining over the years and at several places, the sand reaches were over exploited. Similar is the case with the area around Amaravati and adjoining mandals in Guntur district abutting the River Krishna. In Kurnool district, the village of Panchalingala was a case to point out the overexploitation of sand, due to illegal sand mining.  The sand deposits on the banks of River Godavari were much larger than those on the banks of River Krishna. Nearly, 4000 to 4500 tmc of water comes into River Godavari from Sabari. And, there were no projects in about 300 to 350 km, upstream of Cotton Barrage at Dowalaiswaram. This allowed building up of sand deposits over the sand bed and the current estimated sand deposits in Godavari were pegged at 65 lac cubic metres. But, when it comes to Krishna, it has many projects upstream of Prakasam Barrage, both within the State and in the upper riparian States within a distance of about 100 to 150 km. The presence of these projects prevents the sand building up upstream of Prakasam barrage. Unless there are heavy floods, accumulation of sand deposits on the banks of the river is not possible.

Crusade against corruption needs to be continued

The free sand policy adopted by TDP government was thought as escalating mafia and the present government introduced a new policy which the environmental activists and industry welcomed. A committee of ministers appointed by the present government earlier recommended certain measures which were incorporated in the new policy. Accordingly, the sand stock yards are managed by APMIDC and all mining is taken up by government. While this policy is expected to ease the scarcity threat of sand may open up new problems of excessive mining and environmental degradation. The crusade against corruption still needs to be continued.

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