With imaginative use of IT, the administration in Kerala's Thrissur district has successfully brought down the price of sand, which had been controlled by a mafia of sand miners and lorry owners.
River sand is used extensively for to build houses. With the state witnessing a construction boom, the price of sand had shot up. It even reached Rs.12,000 for a truckload in the district.
To control the rising price, the administration put in place a centralized reservation system, which allowed consumers to buy sand directly from the district revenue department.
"Of late, supervision of the sale of sand has been an important function of the district administration. Demand for sand is very high in the state as there is a construction boom.
"We decided to intervene in the selling of sand as the existing system failed to make available sand at reasonable rates to the people," said Thrissur District Collector M. Beena.
The district unit of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) developed the software for the reservation system called SAND (System for Normal Attumanal (river sand) Distribution).
Earlier, each village panchayat used to sell sand mining rights. As the system of allocating the right was not transparent, certain people cornered this and controlled the price of sand.
"We wanted to put up a transparent system. The software was developed so that sand could be distributed in an orderly manner and prices remained at a reasonable level. When the price rose sharply it became unaffordable for many," said Beena.
"Now, sand is available for around Rs.5,000 per load in Thrissur town," she added.
In Thrissur district there are around 20 sand mining points and only 325 truckloads are allowed to be extracted in a day.
Under the new system, people are allowed to reserve sand at a mining point of their choice by paying a fee. They are issued a token at the counter. The software checks the availability of sand in a particular spot and allots a date for sand collection.
Buyers are required to produce Electoral Identity Card, land tax receipt and a certificate from the local panchayat on the bona fides of the indent.
A customer can reserve a maximum of eight truckloads and they will get eight tokens for it. The computer will allot only one truckload in three days.
"This is to prevent sale of sand in the open market. If you are constructing a house, you don't need all the eight loads in a day," says K. Suresh, the district information officer of the NIC.
"One of the salient features of the system is that it is a self supporting venture with no funding from the exchequer. The user fee charged from customers meets all the expenses, including that of the computer operator. The user fee is Rs.10 per truck load," he said.
Currently, customers are charged Rs.2,040 per truck load of sand, including the loading charges. The customer has to arrange for the transport of sand and the end price is largely ruled by conveyance charge.
"When the centralized reservation system was launched the price of sand fell from Rs.12,000 to Rs.5,000 per truckload," Suresh told IANS.
Currently, the district has only one reservation counter, which is at Thalappally sub-division of the district. The sub-division has the maximum number of mining points in Thrissur district.
"Originally, we had planned many reservation counters. But this could not be implemented. But soon this will become possible once the networking infrastructure is in position," said Suresh.