Rampant illegal sand mining across the Narmada valley on land acquired by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) from oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is not only threatening the delicate ecological balance of the area but could also reduce the project life of the dam. While truckloads of sand is being mined without any permission, the activity also contravenes the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979, which expressly states that land acquired for the SSP may be used only for agriculture or for reservoirs.The project life of the SSP, meant to irrigate 18 lakh hectares of land in Gujarat, 75,000 hectares in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares in Maharashtra, is expected to be reduced because the mining is in the dam’s submergence areas, environmentalists say….In response to a Right to Information application, the NVDA has stated that it has not leased any land. “Thus, any mining activity on their land is illegal,” says social activist Medha Patkar , who has repeatedly raised the issue with the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) over the last two years. The collector’s report even named members of the sand mining mafia of the Badwani district, but no prosecution was initiated. One complaint by the NBA to Union minister for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan in August said the government is on one hand spending crores of rupees for “catchment area treatment” that is mandatory as per the environment clearances issued to the SSP, and on the other hand is a mute spectator to hundreds of truckloads of mud, the topsoil discarded by sand miners, is being thrown into the reservoir. This could seriously affect the lifespan of the project, the NBA complaint pointed out. (Source:Sardar Sarovar Project hit by illegal mining)
We Indians like many other Countries, will have to wait for our “spring” to diminish the rampant corruption as prevalent today in all walks of life. The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), the interlocutors for India at the UNFCCC will sit with eroded moral high-ground at Doha; that much is certain.Unless India wakes up and educates the total spectrum of consumer of SAND on how to conserve and sustain.
However, this article would focus on the collective responsibility of all and more so of the UNEP – SBCI to device methods to stop this madness. Let us begin with understanding the cause and effect of SAND, before I propose my thoughts to “balance out the inequalities” before we can arrive at a more permanent solution.
SAND as we know, has its most use in the Building & Construction Industry. Manufacturing of Brick and Glass and many other uses. The lesser known Beach nourishment to Hydraulic Fracturing equally require large amount of sand. Thus Sand’s many uses require a significant dredging industry, raising environmental concerns over fish depletion, landslides, and flooding. Countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia ban sand exports, citing these issues as a major factor.
Sand like water is both a friend and a foe. Just as water quenches ones thirst and can also drown everything; uncontrolled development leads to creation of too much of sand; i.e. it can render a place into a Desert. According to UNEP, about 36 million square kilometre, or one third (1/3) of the land on the earth, and one forth (1/4) of total population are affected by desertification. Among that, the land suffered from desertification in Africa is counted 10 million square kilometer. In 1977 people met at the U.N. to discuss the problem of desertification. They came out with a Plan of Action to Combat Desertification which was a written document. The plan was not put into affect immediately though, because of both lack of financial and government support. In 1992, the U.N. met again and this time they developed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. This document started being used in 1996. Affected developed nations need to donate to affected but not developed nations like Africa. This plan will help nations in need of money develop a plan to stop desertification. (Prospects and Problems, 2004)
The world’s great deserts were formed by natural processes interacting over long intervals of time. During most of these times, deserts have grown and shrunk independent of human activities. Paleodeserts, large sand seas now inactive because they are stabilized by vegetation, extend well beyond the present margins of core deserts, such as the Sahara. Desert fringes often are a mosaic of micro-climates. In these marginal areas, human activity may stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limit, resulting in degradation of the land. By pounding the soil with their hooves, livestock compact the substrate, increase the proportion of fine material, and reduce the percolation rate of the soil, thus encouraging erosion by wind and water. Grazing and the collection of firewood reduces or eliminates plants that help to bind the soil. “India, with a burgeoning, high resource-dependent population on land that is 32 percent degraded and 24 percent more – or 82 million hectares – in the process of being degraded, – Brij Mohan Singh Rathore, joint secretary in India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests.
“Humanity is the only desert-making species and we’ve been degrading usable land at one percent per year,” says Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). “Land degradation is the missing link to sustainable development, land degradation costs 11 percent of global GDP today,” said Gnacadja. “If it makes sense to the world today to be carbon neutral, in not striving for a degradation-neutral land are we not being senseless?” he asks.
So what if the problem of one is made into profit of another? Let us explore an idea which with proper thought, especially by Ecologists, Entomologists , Botanist and Zoologists sitting across economists and trade-pundits could be put into action.
We all know that The Building & Construction Industry account for nearly 60% of the Sand consumption. As the development and growth of cities continue and as per UNEP-SBCI data, nearly 80% of the population would live in Cities by 2050 AD we are looking at an explosion of construction to meet the demands of housing and trade. With resource getting dearer by the day, illegal sand mining will take up horrendous proportions, leading to major environment catastrophe, unless innovation are looked at.
And one such innovation could be importing of Sand from the Sahara and Sub- Sahara region to India and perhaps all the BASIC countries,where growth would be exponential as is being predicted by the World Bank and United Nations.
The concept if made workable would not only provide the building material; while we find alternative materials for building and designing our cities. (some of which I have already mentioned in the article –Green Business Ideas : Tall Buildings made from waste plastic is possible & its LCA is cheap – a builders delight and boon to Environmentalist) We would be able to stop immediately the sand-mining but most importantly the desertification of some of the regions such as the Sahelian Region in Africa and the Kutch and Barmer region closer home in India.
The best thing that may come out of this Green Business Idea is that, the UN and other local bodies which are fighting a hard battle to stop desertification would get the boost from the trade & business sector as the much needed money to keep the “green ridge line” intact. As beyond green ridge, sand dredging trucks can keep scooping up the sand which keeps crawling towards habitation. However care must be taken that between the green line and the desert only a depth of a Kilometre is allowed for the dredging to happen and not allow the trucks to venture beyond and ruin the eco-system that is out there. For deserts are alive too.
Before I end, I would like to leave this thoughts to all my compatriots in the environment and green building sector and that is –
While we all may be talking of “GREEN BUILDINGS” through certification processes such as LEED or GRIHA, unless we move towards innovation, we would very soon not have the building materials to build the very designs we are happy making. It is one thing to become redundant due to unforeseen circumstance and quite another to have an ostrich approach to the problem which would effect the livelihood of many. Because, all said and done the Building & Construction industry is the single largest consumer of all the produce from every trade and industry sector. Therefore it is imperative that Architects innovate, Developers accept and most importantly the Government of India, must make importing of Sand whether from within the country ( intra-state ) or from Africa. It is very easy to identify, sand extracted from river and seas. These must be made economically un-viable to the sand collected from the deserts. This could become the sure-fire way to solve the problem of Sand and Desertification.