Posted on November 15, 2021
Our most beautiful Indian beaches are under serious threat from recent plans to legalise private-sector beach sand mining. Legalizing sand mining on beaches will destroy holiday and recreational facilities which so many of us take for granted. It will also destroy coastal fishing livelihoods and worsen the effects of climate change and sea-level rise.
Beach sand mining has been illegal since 1991 when the Coastal Regulation Zone Rules were first notified thirty years ago. Although illegal mining on beaches has continued nevertheless, the scale has been comparatively lesser than in rivers, where it has devasted entire swathes of land and water. Major Indian rivers like the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri face existential threat
CoP26, the crucial Climate Change conference at Glasgow concentrated on phasing out coal and curtailing deforestation to cut emissions and prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change by 2050. However, CoP26 did not consider greenhouse gas emissions from mineral mining (including sand) and cement-concrete construction as mainstream goals.
Mineral mining has devastating impacts on climate change. Sand is the second most extracted and used resource in the world after water. All cement-concrete infrastructure requires sand to give strength to the structure it builds. Despite its wide-spread use for most of the infrastructure on which the Earth and our modern civilization is built, sand has been left out of the mainstream conversations on climate change.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced $1.3 trillion investments towards building Western models of infrastructure in the Pradhan Mantri Gati Shakti Master Plan. This infrastructure cannot be built without sand or a sand-substitute. Government is our largest builder of infrastructure.
Nevertheless, the government has never conducted a full audit of sand availability or matched it with the requirements for our ambitious development plans. There have been no studies on the monetary value of the sand which will be needed for construction as sand continues to be stolen from our rivers.
Royalties to the government remain minimal while the real value of sand can only be estimated as a percentage of India’s building plans. When we consider that these building plans exceed $1.3 trillion, the corresponding cost of sand makes it our single largest commodity.
Just as sand mining in rivers has led to changes in the course of rivers, flooding and other disasters, sand mining on beaches will worsen effects of sea-level rise, allow saline influx into the ground-water table and destroy coastal lands and biodiversity.
Disasters such as Intense rainfall and landslides in Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and other States have killed hundreds of people. These are often in fragile areas where cement-concrete building has recently replaced biodiverse forests.
India is among the most vulnerable to climate events and is already facing increasingly severe storms, floods and droughts. Sand mining has been proven to make the effects of climate change worse.
Indian cities like Mumbai and Kolkata also face threats of drowning by 2050 because of sea-level rise. Sand mining will increase the effects of sea-level rise. In areas such as Kihim Beach where sand has been mined for decades, loss of land, fallen trees and other effects are already visible.
There is huge cost, both financial and human, to rebuilding after every climate disaster. Such disasters continue to increase rapidly. Sand is required for building and also for re-building after disasters.
Even while India called upon the ‘developed countries’ to provide $1 trillion for climate-change mitigation at CoP26, it continues to invest massively to replicate their historical mistakes by spending an even greater sum of $1.3 trillion to build new polluting infrastructure.
‘Developed countries’ which built infrastructure without considering the environment are most responsible for today’s climate emergency. They are forced to spend on corrective measures now. India will also be forced to demolish and rebuild the polluting infrastructure we are investing in as we continue to be among the most vulnerable countries, to protect ourselves from the worst effects of climate change.
However, India has not invested in policies to facilitate our net-zero commitments to CoP26. It has also not made the budgetary allocations necessary to execute on our promise to net-zero by 2070. While spending Rs. 100 lakh crores on infrastructure, the Finance Ministry’s Budget allocated Rs. 2867crores, cutting Rs. 230 crores from the environmental budget of Rs 3100 crore in 2020-21.
India has not learned from past mistakes. We are hastening to catch up with the failed development models of ‘developed countries’ and are investing huge sums of money to do so. Although we better understand the problems in building and demolishing these polluting models of development today, we are not factoring in financial or human costs.
Destroying irreplacable beaches will make ourselves more vulnerable to sea-level rise. Legalising of beach sand mining to the private sector, already engaged in unchecked plundering of Indian rivers cannot be the answer to meeting sand requirements to build polluting infrastructure. India is sacrificing its own long-term interests for short-term gain.