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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Sand in our eyes
Hindustan Times
July 30, 2013
First Published: 00:15 IST(30/7/2013)
Last Updated: 00:29 IST(30/7/2013)

As explanations go, this is a bit thin on the ground. The Akhilesh Yadav government has suspended a 2009 batch IAS officer 28-year-old Durga Shakti Nagpal in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly demolishing the wall of a disputed place of worship.

But considering that she had been going hammer and tongs at the powerful sand mafia, many feel that she is paying the price for this. The government has denied any pressure from the sand mafia lobby. If so we wonder why the state government did not order an inquiry before suspending Ms Nagpal.

The suspension also raises the question as to whether the sand mining lobby is so powerful as to force such a change in the administration. That can be easily answered. It is.

Across the country, there have been numerous cases of the mafia attacking and threatening officers and even killing green activists. The reason behind the demand for this resource is simple: without sand or gravel there can be no buildings, glass, electronic chips, and ceramics. And, of course, no beaches, rivers and perhaps no oceans.

Without sand (not the desert variety though), the construction industry would not exist. As India urbanises and the demand for buildings rises, the mafia scours riverbeds, creeks and beaches for the resource.

With demand exploding and such sources depleting faster than they can be replenished by the natural process, it creates a highly skewed supply-demand situation.

The negative impacts of sand mining are many: it threatens water security resulting from the loss of groundwater storage due to lowering the alluvial water table, increases shoreline erosion, has a severe impact on occupations like agriculture and aquaculture and even causes habitat losses including the destruction and fragmentation of fragile endangered ecosystems like mangroves.

Despite legal frameworks prohibiting sand mining in most states, it continues thanks to the collusion among officials, politicians and contractors.

The growing number of cases against sand mining shows that the government must find alternatives to sand and the policy and legal measures to control sand mining must have more teeth and be based on environmental concerns. If not, we are on very shaky ground on this issue.


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