Maharashtra may soon shift to an environmentally viable option of using artificial sand instead of natural sand, which is excavated from rivers and creeks for construction purpose, adversely affecting the environment.
A senior state revenue department official told dna that the policy regarding use of artificial sand, which will be made out of crushed stones and boulders, is in the final stages. The government had set up a committee under additional chief secretary (revenue) SS Kshatriya to study the issue.
Presently, sand is excavated from riverbanks and creeks. The state has district mining officers who conduct surveys and decide the sites from where sand can be mined.
However, such excavation has environmental implications, with riverside villages, riverbeds and the ecosystem at large bearing the brunt. There is erosion upstream or downstream due to change in the velocity of water flow, affecting the riverbanks, land and structures. The groundwater and water table are also impacted.
The powerful sand mining lobby has links to politicians in the state and across India. The illegal sand dredging mafia has also tried to mow down revenue officials when they tried to stop the activity. These sand miners also violate conditions, such as the quantity of sand to be mined and number of dredgers to be operated. IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, who was suspended later, had also undertaken a drive against illegal sand mining in UP’s Gautam Budh Nagar.
“Artificial sand is a very good alternative to natural sand,” the official said, adding that they had taken the opinion of technical departments, such as public works and irrigation, which had certified artificial sand as being good for strength and durability. Technical experts were consulted and use of artificial sand for construction was inspected.
The official, however, admitted that the cost of artificial sand depends on the distance from the site of the crushing to the end-use location. “If the site is nearby, the price is almost at par or close to that of natural sand,” he added.
“So, we’re examining if it must be made compulsory, optional or any financial incentives must be given for use of artificial sand as the end user will go according to economic considerations,” he added.
However, environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali, who has worked extensively on the issue, pointed out that crushed rocks and boulders, which would be obtained from mountains, would be equally harmful for the environment. “Crushed rock is a bad substitute... they must look at alternatives like recycled debris,” she stressed.
To bypass the political nexus in local-level auctions, the state government has begun e-tendering and e-auction of sand and the process has been completed in 26 districts. However, this excavation will compulsorily require the approval of the state environment committee, which has not been formed.
A better option or just as bad?
Environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali has pointed out that crushed rocks and boulders, which will be obtained from mountains, will be just as harmful for the environment
She says crushed rock is a bad substitute and recommended that alternatives like recycled debris must be considered.