The Bombay High Court last week banned sand extraction across Maharashtra, including those holding licences, observing that the activity was damaging river beds and causing flood threats. The decision has been welcomes by environmentalists and is a boost to environment in the state. Not just environment even the people living in proximity are breathing a sigh of relief after the ban. Though one industry has been hit by the ban – it is the construction industry that will now have to search for an alternative to sand. Projects will be delayed by atleast two years it is being said while property will become a little more costly affair than it already is. Details with our report “Is ban Sand Mining good news for Environmentalists and bad news for Home Buyers?” Acting on a petition, the Mumbai High Court last week passed an interim order to ban sand mining in the state. The High Court has reasoned that and I quote, “The extraction of sand all over Maharashtra has become a serious issue posing environmental degradation challenge as well as apprehension to cause damage to river beds thereby causing serious threat of flood or diversion of water flow.” This means sand mining is going to be a thing of the past in the state. Sand mining has been one of the biggest threats to rivers in the state. With generous help of political and bureaucratic big wigs, sand mining in the state had become so rampant that not only were the state’s precious natural resources being depleted in a big way but its rivers threatened with extinction too. Sand is vital for sustenance of rivers. Geologists know that uncontrolled sand mining from the riverbed leads to the destruction of the entire river system. * SAND MINING THREATENS RIVER’S ECO-SYSTEM If sand and gravel is extracted in quantities higher than the capacity of the river to replenish them, it leads to changes in the river’s ecosystem. The removal of sand from the river bed increases the velocity of the flowing water; the distorted flow-regime eventually erodes the river banks. * SAND ACTS LIKE SPONGE IN REPLENISHING WATER TABLES Sand acts like a sponge, which helps in recharging the water table; its progressive depletion in the river is accompanied by sinking water tables in the nearby areas, adversely impacting people’s daily lives, even their livelihood. River sand, therefore, is vital for human well being. That, however, is yet to be appreciated because in the state sand mafia with more than willing co-operation of the corrupt government officials; have been emptying the river beds of sand. Whether it is the major rivers or numerous rivulets and streams all are being ravaged for their sands. Environmentalist Sumera Abdulali who has been a crusader against sand mafia in the state says the state government has wittingly lent a helping hand for the loot. Godavari River, flowing from West to East over the Deccan plateau, has been mined so badly for its sands that its basin in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra state has almost dried up. In Aurangabad district, scores of villages in Paithan tehsil have to get water through tankers. According to rules, sand can be excavated only up to a depth of one metre but greedy contractors, most without permits, in connivance with officials, dig up to as much as seven metres.She says that rules and regulations have seldom been observed. It is kind of free for all. Sumera Abdulali says that authorities in connivance with sand mafia did not even care that robbing sand from rivers and water resources was having a grave impact on environment. That is why the High Court order brings major relief. while villagers who were paying with their livelihoods in rural areas due to unchecked sand mining, in cities, those who were living in the proximity of sand dredging activities know that they have reasons to celebrate post the ban. Some residents shared their relief after the High Court pronounced its order banning sand mining. However there is one industry that has begun to worry about the ban on sand mining – it is the construction industry. In the past decade, construction boom had fuelled the demand of sand. Now that sand will not be available at a stone throw distance from their under construction projects, experts say that not only will on-going projects be delayed for a long time but at the same buying home will become a slightly more costly affair than it already is. City Engineer Mohan Dagaonkar says that the only option now is to search for an alternative to sand. While the construction industry will be hit very hard and the burden will evidently be pushed on to the end home buyers, Sumera Abdulali however echoes the sentiments of the majority. She says that villagers suffered with their lives due to sand mining, now it is pay-back time. Rivers of Maharashtra are already seriously sick. Polluted by industrial and urban effluents, they have been victims of deforestation and degradation because of unchecked sand-mining for decades. Besides, erratic monsoons, induced by changing climate is taking its toll, adversely impacting their capacity to sustain agricultural productivity. Many were not able to foresee how lack of governance was going to hit them in the near future. In simple words, the High Court order banning sand mining will go a long way in taking care of rivers and other water resources so that the state is prevented from being overtaken by desertification, famine and hunger. With cameraperson Vinayak Dalvi, Sana Warsia for NMTV News.
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