The State government may well be losing at least Rs. 3,000 crore annually under the existing system of river sand quarrying and sale, according to an official estimate.
Perhaps, this is for the first time that an indicative amount of loss to the public exchequer has been calculated, even though sections of construction industry and lorry owners/operators have been saying for quite some time that the existing system has neither benefitted the public by providing sand at affordable price nor the government by fetching substantive revenue.
Two factors have been taken into account to arrive at the figure of loss. While one factor deals with under-reporting of the number of lorries getting the load and the quantity of sand loaded in such vehicles, the other factor pertains to the difference between the rate charged by the government per lorry load of 200 cubic feet and the selling rate in the open market. On account of the first factor, the loss is estimated about Rs. 550 crore and thanks to the second factor, it is around Rs. 2,500 crore. Under the existing system of sand quarrying and sale which is in force since October 2003, only the Public Works Department is the lone licensee to quarry sand on government poramboke lands and private patta lands. But, the department awards contracts to private parties for loading of sand at the sites of quarrying. There are 110 sites of quarrying, of which only half of them are operating as water flows in the Cauvery/Coleroon rivers. Besides, there are 67 sand stock yards operated by the private agencies, for whom District Collectors issue licences. As per a government order in June 2004, a lorry load of sand or 200 cubic feet of sand costs Rs. 630 including five per cent Value Added Tax. This is at the site of sand quarrying. But, hardly, one can get sand at this rate, says office-bearers of the Tamil Nadu State Sand Lorry Owners’ Federation.
S. Yuvaraj, president, says that invariably, sand is available in northern districts only at the point of second sales - sand stock yards. The rates for a lorry load of sand vary from Rs. 4,000 in Arcot of Vellore district to Rs. 6,000 in Madhavaram, which is now part of the Chennai Corporation. However, the lorry owners have to factor in wages for their staff and the cost of transportation. At present, an end consumer in Chennai has to pay Rs. 7,000 per lorry load. When more number of sand quarries starts functioning again, the price will come down, he hopes.
For the purpose of calculating the loss, the number of lorry loads (31.41 lakh) and the amount of gross revenue earned (Rs. 188.5 crore) for 2012-2013 were taken into account. At present, the practice to stock sand leads to creation of artificial demand in some places, an official in the PWD acknowledges.