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Sand Mining and River’s deteriorating Health

Published: 15th Sep, 2022


Recently, several State governments and civil societies have attracted the attention of the policy makers towards the over-exploitation of river sand by mining activities and its impacts on Biodiversity and society.


  • Sand mining is a pan-India problem.
  • A United Nations study calculates that humankind’s total consumption of sand—more than 40 billion tons a year—is now double the number of sediments being replenished naturally on the Earth by the sum of the world’s rivers.
  • UNEP in its report ‘Sand and Sustainability’ highlighted that the demand for sand has increased three-fold over the last decades, driven by shifting consumption patterns, growing populations, increasing urbanisation, and rapid infrastructure development.


Sand’s Geology

  • Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral
  • The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal settings is silica (silicon dioxide, or SiO2), usually in the form of quartz.
  • Sand is classified as a “minor mineral” and Sand mining is the extraction of sand, mainly through an open pit (or sand pit) but sometimes mined from beaches and inland dunes or dredged from ocean and river beds.

Why the world is running out of sand?

  • High rate of consumption: Sand is the most-consumed natural resource on the planet besides water. Its major uses are in brick, concrete and mortar, glass, paint, and paved Roads
  • Static nature: The quantity of natural generation of sand is static.
  • Illegal dealing: Due to black marketing and illegal mining of the mineral.

Impact of Sand Mining

  • Alteration of Rivers: Excessive sand mining can alter the river bed, force the river to change course, eroded banks, and lead to flooding.
  • Damage River Biodiversity: Degraded stream habitats result in loss of fisheries productivity, biodiversity, and recreational potential.
    • Sand Mining in Chambal has impacted the population of Gharials (National Chambal Sanctuary has been established for their conservation), a critically endangered species. The mining hurts wildlife by removing basking and egg-laying habitat.
  • Alter Sediment Budget: As the amount of sand reaching Oceans changes, rivers are not able to replenish the sand on beaches and in deltas.

The sediment budget refers to the balance between sediment added to and removed from the coastal system.

  • Lead to poor water quality: Increased riverbed and bank erosion increases suspended solids in the water at the excavation site and downstream. Suspended solids may adversely affect water users and aquatic ecosystems.

Other Socio-Economic Impacts

  • Worsen water scarcity
  • Threat to Coastal Communities
  • Damage to Public and Private Property

Provisions for Sand Mining in India

  • As sand is a Minor Mineral, different State Governments have made different rules for awarding, regulating, and administering the sand concessions.
  • To curb Illegal mining, there have been variousjudicial interventions by the Supreme Court (SC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT).
    • The National Green Tribunal in August 2013 passed an order banning sand mining without proper environment clearance.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has released “Sustainable Sand Mining Management Guidelines 2016” to promote the scientific mining of sand and encourage environmentally friendly management practices.
  • Indian government’s Ministry of Mines has also developed a Mining Surveillance System (MSS) to use space technology for facilitating State governments in curbing illegal mining activities in the country.
  • UnderSection 120B read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, extraction of sand without a legal permit is a punishable offence. 

What measures are needed?

  • Strengthen Policy Framework: Regulations that have been bought, have not worked properly, mainly due to lackadaisical implementation.
  • Alternatives to Sand
    • M-sand - is sand made from rock by artificial processes, usually for construction purposes in cement or concrete
    • Sand segregation from overburden of coal mines
    • Reducing consumption of sand
    • By optimizing the use of existing buildings and infrastructure.
    • Using recycled buildings and quarry dust material as a substitute for sand.
    • Reducing the negative consequences of extraction
    • By calculating the total annual bed load and restricting mining activities up to that value or less.

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