Andhra Pradesh government unveils new sand policy

the Andhra Pradesh government unveiled a new sand policy to protect riverbeds, waterbodies and groundwater on November 14, 2006. It says this is to control the powerful lobby of sand contractors and builders. The policy allows only manual labour and bullocks to mine sand in riverbeds. Bullock carts, mules and other animals would be exempted from any mining tax.

The changes are in line with the Andhra Pradesh Water, Land and Tree Act, 2002, which aims to promote tree cover and regulate the exploitation and use of ground and surface water.

Revenue from sand has been transferred from panchayats to the mines and geology department. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister, was unhappy about sand mining revenue dropping from Rs 18 crore in 2001 to Rs 11 crore this year. For him, this is a failure on the part of panchayati raj institutions.

Price of sand is Rs 1,000 per truckload on the riverbed. In cities, it rises to Rs 20,000. Only an estimated 30 per cent of sand mining is legal. Now, contractors will be allotted sand through open bidding by a committee headed by district joint collectors. Sand can be sold only if it has a maximum retail price tag, otherwise there will be a penalty. Use of poclaines has been banned entirely, and mining will be disallowed below three metres. At present, contractors dig down 15 metres with machines.

Some critics of the new policy say it creates a bias in favour of big mining firms in focusing sand mining revenues. "We are not looking for additional revenues. Only to protect farmers who rely on rivers and groundwater,' says mining minister P Sabitha Reddy, adding it won't harm panchayati raj bodies. "Half the income would go to mandal parishads; 25 per cent would go to gram panchayats and zilla parishads,' she said.

Environmentalists are happy with the policy, but doubt the thrust on revenue augmentation. "Technically, it is good to ban machinery in sand mining,' said Ravi Rebbapragada, who is with the pan-India network called Mines, Minerals and People. "In the Godavari river, anybody can see roads laid right up to the middle of the riverbed to extract sand through machines. But, a tight monitoring is required to oversee the whole process.' Not everybody is happy. Aruna, a former sarpanch , is worried and is of the view that the new policy changes have more to do with economic motives rather than ecological concerns from the government.