A few days ago, Bihar reported clashes between a sand mafia group and officials from the state’s Mines and Geology Department. And the thing is... We keep seeing such reports  day in and day out. So in today’s Finshots, we thought we could deconstruct the problem of illegal sand mining in India.

The Story

It’s a warm afternoon. A group of men are hard at work stockpiling boatloads of sand. Illegally, mind you.

But unbeknownst to them, there are a couple of drones hovering overhead. Someone’s watching them. And the next thing they know, the cops and government officials come storming in. A fight ensues.

Sounds like a scene straight out of a movie right?

Well, it isn’t. These scenes are quite a common affair across Bihar and West Bengal where the sand mafia reigns supreme.

You see, over the years, the population and urbanisation boom has stimulated construction growth. And everything around us is technically built on sand. Whether it’s your fancy ceramic cutlery, the streets outside or the silicon chips powering your phone, they all require the humble ingredient. And India’s sand demand tripled between 2000 and 2017. In fact, since the nation is just behind China in cement production, it’s a given that we use a lot of sand.

Now you can’t just use any kind of sand for our needs. Desert sand won’t work. It’s too fine and smooth. We need sand from river banks and seabeds. That’s the kind that holds well together. And that means the sand isn’t infinite either. If we keep taking sand with reckless abandon, we won’t be able to replenish it fast enough.

But mining all this sand poses another set of problems. It can disrupt ecological balance. When you remove sand from a river bed, it can lower stream bottoms, alter the course of the river, and can affect its interaction with oceans. Saline water can often intrude if you keep mining more sand. It destroys the nesting environments of animals like Gharial crocodiles and Ganges river dolphins. And birds disappear.

There’s also loss of fresh drinking water due to increased river salinity, crop damage, river bank erosion, change in seawater levels, the list goes on.

And that’s why the government tries to keep a firm lid on things. We have the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act to monitor and control mining activity — quarries, riverbeds, everything. And if private players want to get into this business legally, they need to bid for the rights to mine specified sites when state governments open up auctions.

But here’s the thing, where there’s demand, unscrupulous folks will find ways to meet it through illicit means. After all, if a dumper (that can hold about 400–600 kilos) of legally mined sand costs ₹20,000, sand purchased illegally could come at half the price.

Realtors would love to save up on input construction costs, no?

And this means people find ways to mine sand illegally. For instance, in Rajasthan, the state government apparently granted mining sites in areas that were quite close to river beds. So apparently, the ones who won the mining rights sneakily expanded their activities to illegally suck out the sand from river beds. Even though it wasn’t part of the deal.

They did it because they were quite sure that the authorities would find it difficult to manually monitor their activities.

Getting workers for these illegal activities isn’t a hard task either despite the risks that come with it.

See, people from states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and even Karnataka where sand mafias thrive, often have to travel long distances to cities or metros for work. And they might typically earn a daily wage of around ₹400-₹500 a day. On the other hand, illegal sand miners in their own areas have the capacity to pay them more. Sometimes even five times the daily wage. So you can see why it’s attractive. Especially in areas where there are really no other employment opportunities.

Even officers look away, thanks to the lure of bribes. In one such incident in Bihar, the police agreed not to expose these activities if boat owners that transported the sand paid them ₹70,000 a day.

The end result of all this?

Well, the illegal sand mining industry is booming in India. It nets profits of over $250 million each year. And state governments lose a huge stack of revenue — in Bihar alone, the average annual revenue loss goes up to ₹700 crores a year.

So, what can India really do to curb it?

Let’s state the obvious — it’s tough. The environment ministry came up with guidelines to monitor sand mining. In 2016 and again in 2020. The Ministry of Mines also introduced a Sand Mining Framework in 2018. But it didn’t put a full stop to anything.

Perhaps because these were just ‘guidelines’ at the end of the day.

You see, sand is still classified as a minor mineral under the law. That simply means that it’s not regulated as strictly as say coal which is a major mineral. The states are in charge of mining and monitoring activity too. That means surveillance activities are quite haphazard. Sometimes it’s the mining department that looks at sand mining activities. Other times it’s the police. Or maybe it’s even the pollution control board or the environment ministry.

Maybe what we need is a central agency that focuses solely on monitoring sand mining activity. And knowing how important sand is for our future, maybe it’s time for the central government to step in and reclassify it into a major mineral. It’ll lead to stricter regulations maybe.

Or perhaps we need to double down on alternatives.

Over the past decade or so, states like Karnataka have been focusing squarely on manufactured sand or M-Sand. Think of it as artificial sand obtained by crushing hard stones such as granite. While it comes with its own set of environmental problems, the belief is that setting up small-scale units for this purpose can help bridge the supply versus demand gap. And put an end to utilising the sand from our river beds.

So yeah, with demand for sand expected to increase exponentially as India embarks on a construction and infrastructure-building spree, we need ways to curb the menace of illegal sand mining quickly. Will it be through stricter laws or alternatives that can quickly bridge the gap? You tell us.

Until then…

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Recommendation: Read this fantastic 6-part investigative series on Le Monde that talks about how the world is grappling with a sand problem. It covers stories from India, Maldives, Greenland, Miami, Cape Verde, and Paris.

‌Ditto Insights: Why Millennials should buy a term plan

According to a survey, only 17% of Indian millennials (25–35 yrs) have bought term insurance. The actual numbers are likely even lower.

And the more worrying fact is that 55% hadn’t even heard of term insurance!

So why is this happening?

One common misconception is the dependent conundrum. Most millennials we spoke to want to buy a term policy because they want to cover their spouse and kids. And this makes perfect sense. After all, in your absence you want your term policy to pay out a large sum of money to cover your family’s needs for the future. But these very same people don’t think of their parents as dependents even though they support them extensively. I remember the moment it hit me. I routinely send money back home, but I had never considered my parents as my dependents. And when a colleague spoke about his experience, I immediately put two and two together. They were dependent on my income and my absence would most certainly affect them financially. So a term plan was a no-brainer for me.

There’s another reason why millennials should probably consider looking at a term plan — Debt. Most people we spoke to have home loans, education loans and other personal loans with a considerable interest burden. In their absence, this burden would shift to their dependents. It’s not something most people think of, but it happens all the time.

Finally, you actually get a pretty good bargain on term insurance prices when you’re younger. The idea is to pay a nominal sum every year (something that won’t burn your pocket) to protect your dependents in the event of your untimely demise. And this fee is lowest when you’re young.

So if you’re a millennial and you’re reading this, maybe you should reconsider buying a term plan. And don’t forget to talk to us at Ditto while you’re at it. We only have a limited number of slots everyday, so make sure you book your appointment at the earliest:

1. Just head to our website by clicking on the link here

2. Click on “Book a FREE call”

3. Select Term Insurance

4. Choose the date & time as per your convenience and RELAX