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Updated: Nov 10, 2020


Barathkumar K M, III year B.B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.)


River sand is exclusively used for the construction purpose. Desert sand is not suitable for the construction thus everyone prefers river sand. The demand for the sand is increasing every year; the cost of the sand has increased by 100-150% in the last two years. A recent study made by the Indian Institute of Technology- Bombay (IIT-B) has estimated that the annual demand for sand in urban India is 60 million metric tonnes i.e 1 kg of sand per person per day in urban India. Thus the demand for the sand is increased so high but due to extraction of sand from the river bed will damage the ecosystem, so there are many restrictions imposed to collect sand from the river bed. To earn more money some of the people are involved in sand smuggling, in 2019, the United Nations Environmental Programmer’s (UNEP) declared that India and China are the two top countries where sand smuggling has become a major environmental problem.

How does sand mining affect the environment?

Although sand mining is a human need, excessive mining is dangerous. Sand plays an important role in the ecosystem; sand mining will lead to harmful effects on surrounding surface and groundwater while removing a large amount of sand will increase the water salinity and also affects the habitats of the organisms residing in the ecosystem. As a result, it will affect the animals and also humans who depend on fresh water from the rivers and lakes.

Due to sand mining groundwater level will decrease, affecting the natural flow of water and streams and it leads to flooding. Illegal mining contributes to a lack of irrigation water. This, in turn, can lead to the loss of productive farmland.

A recent study by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) says that mining is responsible for a 90% drop in sediment levels in major Asian rivers especially the rivers like Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Mekong and Yangtze. The drop in sediment leads to shrinking of the delta regions of these rivers and contaminated drinking water, the contamination of water is extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.

Great challenge

It is not clear how many units of sand were smuggled but a report submitted by the Union Environment Ministry in January 2018 said that there were 4.16 Lakh Cases of illegal mining recorded between 2013 and 2017. Most of the cases are filed in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The National Green Tribunal’s order against carrying out sand mining without environmental clearance and even a Supreme Court ban on sand mining in Rajasthan, the government takes some step to controlling sand smuggling but all these ended in failure.

Sand smugglers do not deserve discretionary relief of anticipatory bail

On September 3, 2020, Jagadish Chandira of Madras High Court dismissed 40 anticipatory bails filed by 91 people accused of smuggling river sand. He said that every day 10 to 15 anticipatory petitions get filed before the High Court by people accused of smuggling river sand and also pointed that due to sand smuggling the smugglers are escaping by using anticipatory bail. The denial of the discretionary relief of anticipatory bail by the High Court as well as the Sessions Court under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code might help in discouraging the sand smuggling. Justice Chandira directed the High Court Registry to circulate a copy of his judgment to the district courts.


Sand mining across the watersheds and river banks has environmental impacts, the sand smugglers have to extract excessive sand from the river bed causing it to affect the agricultural lands, aquatic organisms, animals and even humans. In addition to this excessive sand mining will result in an increase in water salinity. The steps taken by the government are not sufficient to stop sand smuggling. The actions taken by the Supreme Court have also ended in failure. Recently the Madras High Court declared that there was no discretionary relief to the sand smugglers, it was welcomed. It was hoped that it would reduce sand smuggling. Strict rules should be enacted against sand smugglers is the only way to stop them.

Manufactured sand (M-sand) is suggested to be used for the construction instead of river sand. Nature is the gift given by God and it is the duty of every person to save nature.


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