Sand mining ban in Maharashtra threatens mega projects

Mumbai, Oct 6 (IANS) The building industry has expressed doubts over timely completion of several mega private and government infrastructure projects with billions of rupees investment, in the wake of a recent Bombay High Court order that has banned sand mining across the state.

The high court order of Sep 24 was given by a division bench of Justice B.H. Marlapalle and Justice Amjad Sayed on a writ petition filed by Awaaz Foundation, a Mumbai based NGO. However, the ban has not brought the construction work completely to a halt because the builders usually have a month’s supply of sand in reserve.

The Builders Association of India (Mumbai Centre) Wednesday said the statewide ban comes a year after sand mining was prohibited in the areas falling under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ), and would apply even to those who hold mining licences.

BAI president B.J. Deokar said the ban would have an immediate impact on the cost and timely completion of mega projects like Monorail, Metrorail, the Mumbai SeaLink (extension plans), slum rehabilitation and low-cost housing projects and redevelopment of over 20,000 old buildings in the country’s western megapolis.

‘We have urged Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to consider the matter seriously and suggest the use of a suitable alternate material in place of sand,’ Deokar said.

Besides halting all construction work, the ban on sand mining would render unemployed nearly 10 million people who have been engaged in the building industry in the state, including 2.7 million in Mumbai alone, Deokar said.

BAI Mumbai Centre chairman M.K. Shah urged the government to permit the use of M-sand, manufactured from sand from rocks and considered a good alternative to river and sea sand.

‘Extracting sand from the sea could lead to future erosion but use of aggregate rock to make M-sand available is a viable option. This material is extensively used in states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh,’ he said.

This is the second time in six months that the realty industry in the state has been rocked because of the sand supply issue.

In April, the Mumbai Reti Vahatuk Seva Sangh (MRVSS) went on a flash strike of 10 days, hitting construction projects in Mumbai and Thane.

The MRVSS was demanding an end to the royalties charged by the government, ‘harassment’ by the local authorities, arbitrary charges in the name of royalty and impounding sand-laden trucks for hours.

‘On an average, we supply huge quantities of good quality sand through over 7,000 trucks daily. Now that has come to a complete standstill,’ MRVSS president Sharad Nayak told IANS.

After the high court ban, Nayak lamented that it is the sand transporters who are being targeted by the police but not the sand-mining mafia which has powerful political connections. ‘We only transport the material from the source to the sites, that too legally,’ he said.

Concurring, Awaaz Foundation’s Sumaira Ali said the sand mining goes on with the active involvement and support of politicians, which is wreaking havoc on the environment.