Sand mining is the process of removal of sand and gravel from a flowing river, to fulfill certain needs of construction and development. However, excessive sand mining is becoming an environmental issue as the demand for sand is increasing. Despite the Supreme Court’s order that prohibits sand mining without the requisite clearance from the required authorities and places limits on the quantities that can be mined, thousands of tons of sand is being illegally mined to meet the rising demand of the construction industry.
Sand is an important mineral that plays a vital role in protecting the environment, from strong tidal waves and in promoting habitat for crustacean species and marine organisms.
Sand mining scenario in India
There are numerous reasons behind the ban imposed on sand mining and its unwarranted extraction from rivers. Sand acts as a natural carpet on the bottom of the river. Stripping this layer leads to downstream erosion causing change in channel’s beds and habitat, as well as the deepening of rivers, estuaries and enlargement of river mouth. As the river bed lowers, local groundwater is affected which leads to water scarcity impacting agriculture and local livelihood.
In terms of legal measures, ground water shortage has been noted as the main problem associated with the river sand mining. Experts also point out other habitat and ecological problems.
Environmental impacts of sand mining:
Excessive sand mining forces the river to change its course as sand and powders prevent the river from changing the course and act as a buffer for riverbed
Sand holds a lot of water and when it is mindlessly mined and transported on trucks, large quantities of water is lost in transit
There are a lot of micro organisms that are not visible and widely known but are critical to soil structure and fertility and illegal sand mining takes away their habitat.
It is a threat to agriculture
Despite numerous prohibitions and regulations, sand mining continues rapidly. Water table has dropped dramatically and the land once known for its plentiful rice harvest now faces scarcity of water. In the villages and towns around the river groundwater level has fallen drastically and wells are almost dry.