Sand Mafia: How the high and mighty go untouched

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Bengaluru, March 17: The death of young and dynamic IAS officer, D K Ravi has left everyone shocked and saddened.

Everyone identified him with the man who took on the powerful sand mafia in Karnataka. The police continue to state it is a case of suicide, but there are many who are suggesting conspiracy theories behind his death and one of them being it could have been the result of his feud with the sand mafia.

Sand Mafia

To begin with sand mafia is not just a Karnatka problem. It is present in every place in India where one can find sand. In the recent past we have seen several officers taking on the sand mafia and even getting beaten down which only suggests how strong and powerful the lobby is.

Sand is directly connected with construction and hence in many cases, the builder's lobby too comes into the picture making the deadly syndicate deadlier.

What is the sand mafia?

The mafia thrives due to construction companies. Sand cannot be sourced from anywhere and there are specific allotted areas across the country where sand can be mined. However, this does not work out for construction companies which want to save on transportation costs and time.

The next option available before them is to source the sand from as near as possible. This is when the sand mafia comes into the picture. Rough estimates provided by the police suggest that there is a sand mafia operating in every kilometer of any construction site being undertaken by a private firm.

Construction companies rely heavily on the sand mafia to source the sand. Sourcing it from a nearby illegal place works out cheaper for the construction company.

The demand is extreme and anyone who is part of the sand mafia makes big money in no time. It is normally controlled jurisdiction wise and there is an unwritten code between these persons to mine sand only in areas which they have been allocated.

The allocation process is also something that they undertake among themselves.

The problem has become so blatant that earlier the mafia would work only at night. However, now it is an open affair and they mine the sand in the mornings and transport during the day too. They have found ways of overcoming all hurdles such as the check posts.

Thanks to the connection with some politicians, they have overcome all checks and balances which have helped them carry on their illegal acts unabated.

Durga Shakti

Why is the sand mafia so powerful?

None have been able to estimate the kind of money that is being made by the sand mafia across the country. This is an indicator that the magnitude of the scam is extremely huge. Moreover in the illegal sand business, the investment cost too is extremely low.

None of them go around to procure a licence, which is actually the rule. All they need to invest in is a couple of lorries, drivers and a couple of persons to mine the sand. The machinery involved in the mining of sand too is minimal and very often they rely on labour for this.

However, the profit margins are huge. A lorry load of sand is sold at around Rs 10,000. Each day construction companies demand at least 10 to 15 such loads per day which itself ensures that the turn over is around Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 1,50,000 per day.

The mining cost including the transportation and also the bribes that they pay off the police and politicians would work out to around Rs 5 lakh per day and the rest of the money is the profit.

The bigger guns in the racket rely on the small timers for the sand. The small timers source the sand illegally and transport it to the big guns who in turn transport in large numbers to the construction sites.

This is a major money spinner and since the money riding on it is so huge that they are able to control the administration to a large extent. However, what makes them more powerful is that they enjoy the blessing of the construction lobby.

Illegal sand is a big need for the construction lobby which tries to bring down construction costs to the maximum. If they rely only on legal sand miners, then not only do their construction cost goes up, but they also have to wait longer since the distance to cover is more.

Sand Mafia has big contacts and political hands in saving them.

The sand mafia is very intolerant:

It has been seen in several cases that the sand mafia is extremely intolerant towards anyone trying to stop them. Take the case of Duga Shakti Nagpal the officer from Uttar Pradesh who had taken on the sand mafia. The crack down on the mafia by her had not gone down too well with them.

Many would say that she had been framed by the sand mafia and this had led to her suspension. She had ordered the demolition of a Mosque as it was constructed on government land. The government, however, said that she had tried to disturb communal harmony and hence had to be suspended.

It was quite an open secret that this entire exercise was a ploy by the sand mafia to ensure that she was out.
In a recent incident at Mandya in Karnataka, an attempt to kill a lady police officer was made.

Kavitha Hugar, the Deputy Superintendent of Police was inspecting a site where the sand mafia was at work. She had taken action against many and during one of her visits, an attempt to kill her was made. A lorry hit against the jeep in which she was seated in but she managed to escape. The sand mafia was blamed for this.

Take the case of J P Singh the Sub-divisional magistrate of Etmadpur in Uttar Pradesh. He had arrested three members of the sand mafia. On his way to the local police to produce the three persons he had arrested, he his vehicle was attacked by 30 men from the sand mafia and managed to secure the release of the three men. Singh was threatened that he would be burned alive if he did not release the men.


Cases have no effect:

Several officers have complained that the cases against the sand mafia have no effect. Cases are registered, but without the support of the government no progress can be made. The government very often puts out a set of regulations to control the sand mafia, but nine of ten times it is never implemented.

Several activists who have taken up the cause of illegal sand mining say that the lobby is too powerful and several politicians are afraid to take on the sand mafia. It is a money spinner and with regular supply of money to several politicians they tend to look the other way.

Cases are registered by honest officers, but they end up getting delayed in the courts. During the pendency of the cases, the accused come out on bail and continue mining sand illegally. The government needs to give the officers more ammunition to fight the menace the activists would also point out.

Threat to nature:

There is no doubt that illegal sand mining has shaken up the balance. It is a grave threat to nature and cause flooding. Sand miners operating illegally take away the sand that hold the back river waters which causes the imbalance and thus leads to flooding.

The Supreme Court too in 2011 had ruled that sand mining on either side of the rivers both intream and uptstream is the major cause for environmental degradation and threatens biodiversity. Officers say that despite so many reports and observations there is no concrete action that has been taken.

With the government inviting foreign investors the number of constructions too are bound to go up. This would mean the demand for sand would go up ten fold and illegal sand miners would thrive even further. The government must have checks and balances now.

What the rules state and how they are overcome?

The Mines and Minerals Act of 1957 (Development and Regulation) clearly states that those who want to mine sand must first obtain a license from the respective state governments and pay a royalty. The royalty amount is calculated on the sand they mine.

The illegal sand miners never follow these rules as they feel that paying 8 per cent of the sale price would not work out for them.

The rules further state that the government will decide the place at which sand shall be mined and each lorry which is transporting sand needs to be checked and the sand shall be weighed. If anyone is found to be mining sand illegally then they can face imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine of Rs 25,000 or both.

Sand miners operating illegally have found various ways to overcome the rules and regulations. While in some cases, they blatantly extract sand without any permission, there are cases where they carry out their activity illegally despite having a license.

The government, which gives them a license also fixes a quota of how much sand can be mined. They use these licenses to extract sand, but always end up loading more than the permissible limit. Excess sand beyond the permissible limit is loaded into the trucks and transported. They manage to get away in the absence of checks at the check posts.

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