The valuable resource of sand in India is becoming the new blood diamonds. While not as shiny, sand has become a much sought after demand in countries looking to build, leading to a boom in labor exploitation and illegal sand mining operations. Because sand mining is so poorly regulated, it results in hundreds of injuries and unaccounted deaths, creating family instability throughout India. It is common to find unidentified bodies in the sand pits with children often falling into the pits along the river beds.
Although it is illegal in many places, the extraction of sand from beaches, river beds, and oceans is actively occurring in regions of India, including Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, to name a few. Although I have been noticing recent isolated death tolls about the matter, articles about the issue are referenced throughout the past 10 years. The practice is a growing threat to coastal biodiversity, causing erosion and impacting wildlife. The constant extraction of sand before it has a chance to naturally replenish negatively impacts India’s beach tourism and fishing industries.
Why is this happening?
Sand is in high demand because it is a popular ingredient in construction and manufacturing. It’s used for making concrete, glass, roadways, and even in screens for TV’s and smartphones. It’s a $70 billion global business mined at over 40 billion tons per year worldwide. Recent urbanization and expansion from rural to city life in Asia, Africa, and Latin America has put a strain on building resources. Dubai and Singapore alone require billions of tons of sand to create new islands. Because the mining of many river beds in India is banned, putting an estimate on its gains can be difficult; A rough estimate would place illegal sand mining in India as a $150 million a year business.
The tolls of this industry are discreet, giving rise to a rogue “sand mafia," comprised of a league of contractors, politicians, and corrupt law enforcement officials. Those who wish to expose it in the area face violence, threats of murder, and harm to their families. Only the families who are losing their loved ones to this demand can attest to the dangers of over-mining but its environmental and exploitative impacts will be felt by all as we see the practice increase.