Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sand mining....where's the sand for the buildings?!

These days, sand mining has evolved into a criminal nexus as widespread as the hooch mafia and as destructive as the timber mafia. Mafia....mmm...evokes images of dishum-dishum movies and indeed, the recent raids against sand mining operations have been quite theatrical, involving large posses of cops, divers and JCBs to size and destroy boats, in operations which remind one of Roman naval warfare!

So, everybody agrees that sand mining on this scale is going to ruin the rivers and backwaters of Kerala, which have made our state legendary in its beauty and a great place for all of us to live in. But do we need all this sand, where's it goin anyways? The answer is simple, we just need to look around us. The construction boom has never been this pronounced in Kerala before. A high-rise a day is being announced these days in Trivandrum and Kochi, and thousands of private residences are going up. Big builders like DLF, Unitech, Rahejas and Emaar are setting up shop in Trivandrum and Kochi, and looking to expand. And to further add to the demand, there is the demand for IT and hospitality space. One look at the IT Corridor and Technopark in Trivandrum and that becomes obvious. Millions of square feet of space are going up and that requires quite a few cubic meters of sand.

Okie, so we need the sand. Where else can it come from? One interesting proposal which came up a couple of years ago is to mine sand from the sea bottom, wash it and then use it for construction purposes. This involves a dredger out in the deep sea, which will dredge sand from depths of 20-30 m and then bring it to shore, where it will be washed to remove salt and then used for buildings. A foreign firm, a Mid-east based one I think, had come forward to invest the hundred crores or so required for the purpose. Unfortunately, it has been duly shot down due to protests from fishermen that the dredging would destroy fish stocks.

How true is that? I am no marine biologist, but at first glance it does seem to hold some truth. However, if that were true then the kind of dredging going on around Dubai would have rendered it a sub-sea wasteland. Billions of cubic metres of sand are being dredged up to create the artificial islands - the Palms, the Marina, the World - which have become the craze these days. Howver, studies have shown the impact to be limited in extent. Similarly, massive dredging is ongoing for the Sethusamudram Ship Canal project, where studies have again shown negligible impact on marine life so far. And Cochin Port Trust carries out major annual dredging to keep its silt choked channels open, right under those iconic Chinese fishing nets. Also, one needs to consider that most fish spawn out at sea and hence will not be affected by bottom dredging in the intermediate zone.

In the end, options like sea sand mining will be required to save our rivers and the economy at the same time. The challenge is to ensure that ecological impact is minimised, we don't want to trade one disaster for another, and to educate our fisherfolk about the same. Hope the Government takes steps in this direction soon and does not just confine its activities to Suresh Gopi style raids, lol!

So, here is looking forward to a New Kerala built from sea sand!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.