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[Answered] Mindless unsustainable sand mining has become a major environmental problem. In light of this discussion, salient features of ‘Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining 2020’ released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

 

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss threat of illegal sand mining on environment and salient features of Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining 2020.

Conclusion. Way forward.

 

Sand Mining is an activity referring to the process of the removal of sand from rivers, streams and lakes. Sand is mined from beaches and dredged from ocean beds and river beds. There are no official figures for the amount of sand mined illegally, but in 2015-16, there were over 19,000 cases of illegal mining of minor minerals, which include sand, in the country. To stop illegal mining, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) issued Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand mining. These guidelines focus on the effective monitoring of the sand mining.

 

Illegal sand mining in India- an environmental threat:

  1. Threaten ecosystem: Within aquatic ecosystems, sand supports organisms that are vital to the food chain. The removal of large amounts of sand increases water salinity and destroys the habitats of the organisms residing in the ecosystem. This, in turn, affects other animals and even humans who rely on fish and fresh water from these rivers and lakes. For instance, In Periyasamypuram in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu, fish catch has come down, ground water has turned brackish and the sea has entered the village due to coastal sand mining.
  2. Causes Erosion: Unregulated mining of large volumes of sand along beaches leads to their erosion. By removing too much sediment from rivers, sand mining leads to the erosion and shrinking of river banks. It also destabilizes the ground and causes the failure of bridges, dikes, and roads. For instance, In Karnataka, rampant sand mining is leading to coastal erosion. The government is now forced to spend crores of rupees to form a barrier against coastal erosion.
  3. Threaten species: Illegal sand mining is thought to be a major cause for several animal species residing in the Ganga from the iconic Gangetic dolphin to the Gharial and Northern River Terrapin to teeter on the verge of extinction today.
  4. Floods: Large-scale sand mining destabilised the banks and beds, affecting the natural flow of rivers and streams and increasing risks of floods. A study by the WWF, says that mining is responsible for a 90% drop in sediment levels in major rivers, including the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna River. This has resulted in the shrinking of the delta regions of these rivers, leaving residents extremely vulnerable to flood, land loss, contaminated drinking water and crop damage.
  5. Economic cost: Sand mining destroys the aesthetic beauty of beaches and river banks, and also makes the ecological system in these areas unstable. If such beaches and riverside areas are popular tourist destinations, then the tourism potential of such areas will be lost.

 

Salient features of Enforcement and Monitoring Guidelines for Sand Mining 2020:

  1. River audits: According to guidelines, states need to carry out river audits and should put detailed survey reports of all mining areas online and set up dedicated task forces at district levels.
  2. Effective monitoring: The enforcement guidelines focus on the effective monitoring of sand mining from the identification of sand mineral sources to its dispatch and end-use by consumers. The transportation of Sand should take place only in vehicles which are installed with GPS and have been registered with the state government.
  3. Transparency: The guidelines push for online sales and purchase of sand and other riverbed materials to make the process transparent. They propose night surveillance of mining activity through night-vision drones.
  4. Check on illegal mining: Guidelines emphasise use of technology through remote surveillance, drones to curb Illegal mining. In order to curb illegal mining, it is very necessary that the general public is aware of the legal source of sand according to guidelines. It is suggested that the state government should develop an online portal for sale and purchase of sand. It is also suggested that the controlled price model is more effective in controlling illegal sand mining.
  5. Cooperative federalism: In cases where rivers become district boundaries or state boundaries, the districts or states sharing the boundary shall constitute the combined task force for monitoring of mined materials, mining activity and participate in the preparation of District Survey Reports (DSR) by providing appropriate inputs.
  6. Survey: The guidelines say the detailed survey needs to be carried out for quantification of minerals and the demand and supply of the riverbed material through market survey, including the future demand for the next five years.
  7. Environmental impact: The need for replenishment study for river bed sand is also required in order to nullify the adverse impacts arising due to excessive sand extraction. No riverbed mining will be allowed during the monsoon.

 

Sand mining is a necessary practice that will continue. In India, there is enough sand to do so in a sustainable way when mining is targeted at the right areas, but corruption makes enforcing industry regulations quite difficult. It is necessary that the state governments must ensure mining volumes do not exceed the predetermined sustainable mining quantity proposed.

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