Sand Mining in India: Protecting the Coastlines From Exploitation

sand mining India
Sand mining, Mizoram, India. Photo: Karen Conniff, Water Alternatives

The use of sand for cement-making in industrial projects has generated significant demand in India. Sand mining holds significant environmental and economic implications for coastal populations. The removal of sand, and the minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, leucoxene, and sillimanite, which garnet sand contains, leads to beach erosion, reduced fish populations, and scarcity of drinking water. Lack of enforcement for sand-mining regulations and insufficient subsidy programs for affected communities detrimentally impact coastal welfare. The sand mafia, a network of criminal syndicates that illegally mine sand, has proven especially destructive, with attempts to curtail their behavior often leading to violent altercations.

Coastal Impact 

Removing sand from beaches, dunes, and sandbanks causes the waterline to retreat by disrupting the critical balance of natural depositional and erosional forces. Unsustainable mining practices have caused serious coastal erosion in areas like the Kerala district where mining has already eroded the village of Panmana’s foundation. Such mining practices also damage underwater ecosystems, which affects the fishing industry. The turbidity created by removing sedimentation from the sea and riverbeds reduces the amount of sunlight and oxygen in the water. Deprived of a hospitable environment, fish stocks can quickly dwindle. In Alappad Panchayat, 6,000 fishermen have already left the region because of declining fish stocks. The wider ecological ramifications of sand mining have a far-reaching effect on India’s coastal welfare. 

Sand Mafia 

The presence of the sand mafia has exacerbated the impact of unsustainable mining practices in India. Incentivized by India's $250 million illegal sand-mining industry, the sand mafia ignores restrictions placed on mining and uses force and intimidation to fend off government and civilian interference. In 2018 alone, at least 28 people died as a result of violence associated with sand mining, including journalists and forestry officers. Illicit mining, transportation, and selling of sand involves groups, independent actors, and corrupt officials. The resulting distributed organizational structure makes it difficult for authorities to implement an effective response strategy. Failure to crack down on sand mafia operations has eroded the coastal communities’ trust in government oversight and law enforcement. 

Government Initiatives

India has set into motion several initiatives to regulate and monitor sand-mining operations; 2020 saw the release of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change’s Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining. The recommendation for local governments builds on the 2016 Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines and stresses greater oversight through initiatives like encouraging online sales for greater business transparency and using drones to monitor sites. The document also emphasizes the importance of creating environmental surveys to accurately understand the levels of degradation in mining areas. Because the methods suggested by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change are only guidelines, however, local governments can choose not to implement the regulatory practices. The lack of enforcement mechanisms limits the document's policy impact. 

Wider Ramifications for Coastal Welfare: Maritime Security Index 

The Stable Seas Maritime Security Index provides a means of tracking progress in maritime security across 70 African and Asian nations. India’s country profile scores show that the country can make improvements in coastal welfare, for which it ranks 63rd out of 70 countries, and in the fisheries sector in order to generate stronger economic resilience. Low scores in both coastal economic security and physical security reflect the difficulties faced by coastal communities. Unsustainable methods of gathering natural resources, including sand mining, have significantly harmed the coastal industries responsible for sustaining these communities. 

Conclusion 

The serious environmental impact of sand mining harms both coastal welfare and fisheries sectors. The sand mafia in particular has shown little regard for collateral damage or the long-term sustainability of sand mining. Although India has attempted to mitigate the effects of sand mining by releasing guidelines for local governments to follow; without more stringent measures for enforcing government mandates exploitation will continue. The far-reaching consequences of sand mining, both ecologically and economically, can severely harm the livelihoods of coastal communities reliant on natural resources for sustenance.