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Sand mining

Sand mining is a practice that is used to extract sand, mainly through an open pit. Sand is
mined from beaches, inland dunes and dredged from ocean beds and river beds. It is often used in
manufacturing as an abrasive, for example, and it is used to make concrete and in other sectors such
as production of glass, electronics and aeronautics.
Context: Sand mining is being carried out from thousands of years. However, the current
unprecedented increase in demand for sand is causing overexploitation of the sand beyond the
naturally replenishable levels.
Impacts of sand mining can be broadly classified into three categories:
Physical
The large-scale extraction of streambed materials, mining and dredging below the existing
streambed, and the alteration of channel-bed form and shape leads to several impacts such as
erosion of channel bed and banks, increase in channel slope, and change in channel morphology.
These impacts may cause:
1.
Undercutting and collapse of river banks,
2.
The loss of adjacent land and/or structures,
1.

1.

Upstream erosion as a result of an increase in channel slope and changes in flow velocity

a.

Downstream erosion due to increased carrying capacity of the stream, downstream


changes in patterns of deposition, and changes in channel bed and habitat type.
b.
Damage to physical infrastructure ( like railways ,bridges, highways etc) nearby, resulting
in further economic distress of the community.
1.

Water
Mining and dredging activities, poorly planned stockpiling and uncontrolled dumping of
overburden, and chemical/fuel spills will cause reduced water quality for downstream users,
increased cost for downstream water treatment plants and poisoning of aquatic life.
Inadequate groundwater recharge: River sand acts as a sponge. The water it holds percolates into
the ground. Without the sand, water just courses downstream. Lowering of groundwater table due
to excessive extraction and draining out of groundwater from the adjacent areas may cause shortage
of water for the vegetation and human settlements in the vicinity.

1.

Ecological

a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.

a.

Mining which leads to the removal of channel substrate, re-suspension of streambed sediment,
clearance of vegetation, and stockpiling on the streambed, will have ecological impacts. These
impacts may have the following effects:
Direct loss of stream reserve habitat,
Disturbances of species attached to streambed deposits,
Reduced light penetration,
Reduced primary production
Reduced feeding opportunities.
Flooding during cyclones and storms.

Political
a) Many activists and whistleblowers have been silenced, intimidated or even killed by the unholy
nexus of politician, bureaucrat and mafia who openly flout rules despite repeated censures from
courts.
b) Governments have found it convenient to transfer the officials who tried to expose the culprits,
discouraging honest and courageous officers. Ex: Suspension of IAS officer in Greater Noida in
Uttar Pradesh after she cracked down on the mining mafia.
c) NGT issued a restraint order against all sand mining activity being carried out across the country
without environmental clearance.

Way forward:
1. Abandoned stream channels on terrace and inactive floodplains may be preferred rather than
active channels and their deltas and floodplains.
2. Stream should not be diverted to form inactive channel.
3. Mining below subterranean water level should be avoided as a safeguard against
environmental contamination and over exploitation of resources,
4. Large rivers and streams whose periodic sediment replenishment capacity are larger, may be
preferred than smaller rivers
5. Mining at the concave side of the river channel should be avoided to prevent bank erosion.
Similarly meandering segment of a river should be selected for mining in such a way as to avoid
natural eroding banks and to promote mining on naturally building (aggrading) meander
components,
6. Scraping of sediment bars above the water flow level in the lean period may be preferred for
sustainable mining.
7. Environmental issues related to mining of minerals including riverbed sand mining should clearly
state the size of mine leasehold area, mine lease period, mine plan and mine closure plan, along
with mine reclamation and rehabilitation strategies, depth of mining and period of mining
operations, particularly in case of river bed mining.

8. The Piedmont Zone (Bhabbar area) particularly in the Himalayan foothills, where riverbed
material is mined. This sandy- gravelly track constitutes excellent conduits and holds the greater
potential for ground water recharge. Mining in such areas should be preferred in locations selected
away from the channel bank stretches. Areas where channel banks are not well defined, particularly
in the braided river system, midstream areas should be selected for mining of riverbed materials for
minimizing adverse effects on flow regime and in-stream habitat.
9. Mining of gravelly sand from the riverbed should be restricted to a maximum depth of 3m from
the surface. For surface mining operations beyond this depth of 3m (10 feet), it is imperative to
adopt quarrying in a systematic bench- like disposition, which is generally not feasible in riverbed
mining.
10. Mining of riverbed material should also take cognizance of the location of the active channel
bank. It should be located sufficiently away, preferably more than 3m away (inwards), from such
river banks to minimize effects on river bank erosion and avoid consequent channel migration.
11. Hazardous effects of scouring and enhanced erosion due to riverbed mining should be
evaluated periodically and avoided for sustainable mining activities.
12. Identification of river stretches and their demarcation for mining must be completed prior to
mining for sustainable development.
13. The mined out pits should be backfilled where warranted and area should be suitably
landscaped to prevent environmental degradation.
14. Researches on alternate building material like fly-ash, blast residues to check the demand for
sand.
15. Community participation to save riverbeds and Formation of a state level monitoring
committee

Sources:
http://threeissues.sdsu.edu/three_issues_sandminingfacts01.html
http://www.greenfacts.org/en/sand-extraction/l-2/index.htm
http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-propertyplus/an-alternative-to-sand-inconstruction/article5618568.ece
http://www.portal.gsi.gov.in/gsiDoc/pub/riverbed_mining_guidelines.pdf

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