No viable alternative to river sand yet

For an individual constructing a house or a commercial building, the biggest worry is the availability of sand. Citing scarcity as the reason, sand is sold at an exorbitant price and transported in odd hours, either early in the morning or late in the night. Since only contractors and builders are in touch with the suppliers of sand, individuals investing money in construction would never come to know about the actual availability, price and quality of sand. 

According to the Department of Mines and Geology, there is no scarcity of sand in the state. “I have not come across any complaint from anyone about the shortage of sand. Public Works Department has never complained of sand shortage in the state. The only problem is with the transportation of sand. Since construction activity is increasing, the sand is supplied on a priority basis. We have been conducting frequent raids to regulate illegal sand mining,’’ says N S Prasanna Kumar, director of the department.

In an effort to reduce the environmental damage and simultaneously meet the increasing demand for sand, the state government is promoting M-Sand (manufactured sand). According to Economic Survey of Karnataka (2017-18) tabled before the assembly, the state claimed that various programmes are being held to bring public awareness on the usage of M-sand. “To maintain the ecological balance and reduce the adverse effect on groundwater, the government has taken measures to initiate M-Sand production and use it as an alternative to river sand. M-Sand is produced in 18 districts and during 2017-18, the annual target of M-Sand production was 30 million metric tonnes,’’ an official said.

Here again, questions were raised about the quality of M-Sand. Prasanna Kumar denies such allegations and hints that river sand mafia is behind the spread of rumours. “It is a myth that M-Sand is of inferior quality. I have visited several construction sites where M-Sand is being used and it is perfectly fine. We at the Department of Mines and Geology have three important tasks ­— to curb illegal sand mining at riverbeds, to promote M-Sand and to completely ban instream mining. National Green Tribunal has banned instream mining and we are taking stringent measures against people indulging in this mode of sand extraction,’’ Prasanna said.

Lakshmi Keshava, an architect into construction business for the last 30 years, said the inconsistent supply of river sand has pushed the construction industry to move for M-Sand. “The reality is that good quality of sand is not available. In the last 2-3 years, we started getting low-quality river sand. To meet the demand, the suppliers started mixing river sand with M-Sand or even filter sand. We have stopped using river sand completely and are using M-Sand only. The M-Sand is being supplied in two qualities, one is called ‘single-wash’ and the second one is ‘double-wash’. One can be used for concreting and the other is for plastering,’’ Lakshmi Keshava said.

S Suresh Hari, vice president, Confederation of Private Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), Bengaluru, said that the construction industry is slowly moving to alternative materials to overcome sand issues. “Now it is difficult to get sand with required quality and the imported sand (Malaysian sand) is too expensive. We feel the government should liberalise sand policy. The industry is slowly evolving newer technologies like having a lot of metal structures to avoid the use of sand,’’ he said.

The state government’s ambitious scheme of importing sand from Malaysia has not taken off as expected. The Mysore Sales International Limited (MSIL), a government undertaking importing sand from Malaysia, claims that it has so far imported 8,000 tonnes and sold 4,000 tonnes of sand. MSIL is selling sand at Rs 4,000 per metric tonne of sand.

The MSIL sources said that the amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act was notified on December 23, 2017. A source said that when the amendments were introduced to import sand, certain private agencies also applied for licences. Within a short time, the state government granted permission and as of now, three such private agencies have imported sand.

“One of the conditions for importing sand is that it should be sold in the bags of 50 kg or 100 kg or large size jumbo bags, with complete details. The private agencies have now requested the state government to relax the condition and allow them to sell imported sand in loose. The proposal is before the government,’’ an official said. The entire scheme of importing sand was to end the selling of sand without a price cap and without quantitative measure. Allowing the sale of imported sand in loose will defeat the purpose and would put MSIL market in danger, says an official.


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No viable alternative to river sand yet

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