The film ‘Line in the Sand’, on the rampant scam of illegal sand mining across the country was screened for the first time in Mumbai on Saturday. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has produced the 20-minute documentary. The screening was attended by its Indian Director Savitri Chaudhury and three Activists, which it featured, Sumaira Abdulali, Aakash Chauhan and Brijmohan Yadav. The film tells their stories while taking on the sands mafia including attacks, which all three of them faced.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion. The panelists included Dr Praveen Gedam, who, as District Collector at Solapur developed the sand mining approval and tracking system (SMAT) that has been adopted across India as the National Sustainable Sand Mining Guidelines. Other panelists included Yashwant Sontakke from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), Joy Thakur from Environment Department, activists Aakash Chauhan, Brijmohan Yadav and Nandakumar Pawar, an activist from Bhandup in Mumbai. Sumaira Abdulali, convener of Awaaz Foundation moderated the discussion.
All panellist and participants agreed that the government must take steps to stop illegal sand mining that is endangering environment and livelihood of lakhs of people.
Mining of sand is considered a necessity under current situation where there are few alternatives available. However, little effort is made to find and implement such alternatives and the State has left it up to individual builders to use such technology if suitable. No efforts to map available sand stocks and match them with requirements for building requirements of the Development Plan –DP are made and the draft Regional Plan currently under circulation does not map the source of sand to supply the quantities needed to execute the DP.
Solapur has always been notorious for the illegal sand mining and mafia gangs that operate without fear due to support from politicians. Describing his action against illegal sand mining, Dr Gedam, who is the Transport Commissioner at present, says, "The District Administration received good support from Police. We levied heavy fine on illegal sand mining, and also filed cases against those involved in this. We impounded the sand, vehicles and other equipment used in illegal sand mining. These efforts from district administration also saw about 425 first information reports (FIRs) filed against the illegal cartels of sand mafias in FY2013-14 alone. In addition, the District Administration also intimated the Income Tax and Sales Tax department about these people involved in illegal sand mining. In short, we pounded from all sides and this helped us to curb illegal sand mining and boost revenues from sand mining to Rs78 crore in FY2013-14 from Rs22 crore a year ago."
Nandkumar Pawar, who works for protection of mangroves , wetlands and welfare of coastal community across Mumbai Metropolitan Region, feels people from his fishermen community are involved in illegal sand mining out of compulsion to survive. "With increased pollution, encroachment and killing of mangroves and wetlands, our community is unable to continue fishing for its livelihood. In the absence of any other alternative, they are now working in the illegal sand mining at lower rung," he says. They need rehabilitation into alternate legal activities.
Mr Sontakke from MPCB felt that complete ban on sand mining is not possible, but we need to think about alternatives to raw materials used in construction industry.
According to Mr Thakur, the builder is required to apply for permission stating his requirement for raw materials. "The Environment Department has allowed manual mining with use of suction pumps in exceptional cases. However, many a times, suction pumps are used for sand mining. In these matters, the District Collector as authority is vested with powers to take action," he said.
Ms Chaudhry talked about some of the dangers, loneliness and isolation faced by the activists such as Brijmohan Yadav and Akash Chauhan in remote areas.
The audience, comprising students and senior academics, activists and concerned citizens signed a memorandum to the Prime Minister ‘technology is now available to create alternatives to sand, the government must take a lead by mandating the use of aggregates for its own projects, or explain where the sand is coming from.”
The event was organized by Awaaz Foundation along with Moneylife Foundation and Global Enviro Solutions.