(Corrects title in paragraph three)
By Rina Chandran
Chennai, INDIA, Dec 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The
arrests of several businessmen and sacking of a senior
bureaucrat in southern India have highlighted the power of the
so-called "sand mining mafia", accused of damaging the coastline
and destroying livelihoods of impoverished communities.
India's main agency for investigating corruption, the
Central Bureau of Investigation, this week arrested sand mining
baron Shekhar Reddy and several associates after seizing large
amounts of cash and gold from his home in Tamil Nadu state.
Tamil Nadu's Chief Secretary P. Rama Mohana Rao was removed
from his job a day after his home was raided.
An investigation is ongoing, a state official told reporters
in Chennai, without giving more details.
The arrests highlight the large amounts of money to be made
from sand mining and why the industry thrives despite laws to
check illegal mining, said Debi Goenka at environmental
non-profit the Conservation Action Trust.
"Sand is literally worth its weight in gold in India because
of the construction boom," he said.
"There's no shortage of laws, but no enforcement. There's
corruption at all levels. Meanwhile, coastlines are eroding,
coastal settlements are disappearing and groundwater is
As the world's fastest growing major economy expands, demand
for construction materials, including sand, is increasing to
build roads, airports, malls and homes.
Despite laws regulating sand mining in most states, rivers
and beaches are dredged beyond safe levels. Bribing of local
officials and the police is common, campaigners say.
Officials say they are doing everything they can to check
"We have a high-level monitoring committee and we conduct
periodic reviews to check illicit and illegal sand mining," said
R. Palaniswamy, the state's mining commissioner.
"We are aware there are violations; we investigate them and
take appropriate action. We are doing everything in our power,"
he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thousands of truckloads of sand are mined every day in Tamil
Nadu, which has India's second-longest coastline.
The industry is worth up to 450 billion rupees ($6.6
billion) annually, according to some estimates, but much of this
is illegal, and its impact is serious.
Removing large amounts of sand erodes river beds and
beaches, enlarges river mouths, destroys bio-diversity, and
exacerbates groundwater shortages and flooding, while leading to
the loss of livelihoods of coastal communities.
Sand mining has depleted fish stocks, and made water unfit
for agriculture. It has also led to landslides, which further
erode coastlines and hurt communities that depend on the water
for their livelihoods.
It is a similar story elsewhere in Asia. In Cambodia,
illegal sand mining has led to the disappearance of beaches and
the collapse of mangroves.
In Tamil Nadu, anti-sand mining activists have been
attacked, and even killed, while officials who have stood up to
the mafia have also been targeted.
The punishment for mining sand illegally is jail for up to
two years or a fine of up to 25,000 rupees ($370), or both.
"If we were to arrest everyone that is caught and lock them
up for two years, it would send out a message," said Goenka.
($1 = 67.8415 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Belinda
Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate
change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)