State government’s decision alarms ecologists

The government’s decision to allow sand transportation from the coastal districts to the neighbouring States has alarmed ecologists.

They say that unbridled sand extraction will adversely affect beaches and estuaries in Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Not just that, sand prices are expected to rise sharply within the State.

Ironically, the decision may once again open the floodgates for a section of extractors, who had, not long ago, rendered the riverbeds completely devoid of sand. Sand prices had then gone up beyond Rs. 5,000 for a lorryload and sand had become a scarce commodity for those in the construction business.

Over-exploitation, according to K.S. Jayappa, associate professor, Department of Marine Geology, Mangalore University, has left beaches bereft of sand. This was because the river systems replenished sand on beaches. So, excessive extraction would intensify sea erosion and affect sand biodiversity, he said.

‘Manifold increase’

In Prof. Jayappa’s estimation, sand extraction had increased manifold. It was, however, banned in August 2009. The ban became effective only about two years later when global positioning system (GPS) devices were installed on sand lorries. All this has been undone now with the ban being lifted.

The reason for lifting the ban is because Assembly elections are round the corner and the BJP government is “out to stretch its hands for kickbacks”, alleged Hanumantha Kamath of Mangalore-based Nagarika Hitarakshana Vedike.

Many powerful people, including a former Minister and a councillor, are behind the sand lobby, he claimed. Unfettered greed would affect the ecology and the safety of bridges on rivers as extractors would dig for sand close to these structures, he feared.

If past record is any indication, sand extractors can cross across to Kerala and sell sand at double the price as restrictions on sand extraction are stringently enforced there. Moreover, an average of 100 lorries used to transport sand every day to neighbouring States using routes that would enable them to circumvent payment of royalty, say those acquainted with the trade.

Deputy Director of Mines and Geology B.M. Ravindra and president of the Joint Action Committee of Sand Transporters Associations Mayur Ullal expect that the Cabinet decision would open up sand trade with Goa and not Kerala. There is, however, no official indication that Kerala will not be a beneficiary.

Mr. Ravindra said that up to 400 lorryloads of sand is extracted in Dakshina Kannada and as much in Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts put together. During peak demand, half of the sand extracted goes to the neighbouring States.

Mr. Ullal said the joint action committee’s request was to allow transport of limited quantity of sand to Kerala while the Department of Mines and Geology saw no reason for setting limits.