"The situation is not good. There is no work. I don’t have the means to provide for my wife and children."
This was what Polepally Venkatesh, a construction worker from Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh, said in a video, before he killed himself earlier this week. Venkatesh was reported to be the third construction worker who took the extreme step, as a result of a fallout from a severe shortage of sand in the state.
The shortage has hit construction activity in the state, pushing several lakh workers into misery.
The spate of suicides has led to an outcry from the opposition parties led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which blamed the YSRCP government's wrong policies for the crisis. The ruling party meanwhile, has denied the allegations and hit back at the opposition for carrying out 'false propaganda'.
What caused the shortage?
The suicides, were all reported from areas in and around the state capital region of Amaravati. They are linked to the slump in construction activity in the state due to scarcity of sand following a change in the sand policy after the YSRCP came to power in May.
The YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government accused the previous TDP government of abetting illegal sand mining by favouring those close to the ruling party.
Therefore, the new government initially banned sand mining, which created a severe shortage and led to the prices skyrocketing. A complete halt on construction activity in and around Amaravati and other parts of the state, also threw several lakh labourers out of work.
The new government had scrapped the earlier "free sand policy", under which the cess on sand was waived and consumers had to pay only transportation charges.
Promising to provide sand at low cost from government-owned stockyards, the Jagan government introduced a new policy on September 5.
But the opposition parties say that the damage had already been done.
What does the new policy say?
Under this policy, state-owned AP Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) Ltd will undertake sand quarrying and supply sand to the customers on behalf of the government at the stockyards set up across the state. The consumers were asked to book the sand online and it was also announced that the movement of trucks will be tracked to prevent black marketing, hoarding and artificial supply shortage.
However, ever since the new policy came into effect, the authorities could not make more than 40,000 tonnes of sand available on any given day while the daily demand is around 1.50 lakh tonnes.
People complained that the stocks made available online are getting exhausted in no time. There have been allegations that the sand is being diverted from stockyards to cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad and being sold for Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh per truck.
A tipper truck of sand from APMDC stockyard in Visakhapatnam costs Rs 20,000 but due to severe shortage, builders are sourcing sand from neighbouring Odisha at a cost of Rs 45,000.
APMDC officials have been assuring people for the last two months that things will be soon under control.
They said that they were not able to quarry sand from Godavari, Krishna, Vamsadhara, Nagavali and Tungabhadra rivers due to floods. The water levels have still not receded, affecting the sand quarrying.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy also issued a statement on the scarcity and said, that it was because of ‘unprecedented floods and rainfall’.
As the floods would soon subside, Jagan said that a program called ‘Isuka Varotsavam’ (Sand Week) would be conducted, where extraction of sand will be done intensively for an entire week to bridge the shortfall.
Opposition parties lash out
The opposition parties have slammed the government for pushing several lakh construction workers into a precarious situation. Former Chief Minister and TDP President N Chandrababu Naidu said that sand has become as costly as cement.
Blaming the government for the shortage, Naidu demanded that the government should provide financial assistance to the workers who were rendered jobless because of its faulty policies. "This is a man-made shortage," he said.
Jana Sena Party (JSP) chief and actor Pawan Kalyan also expressed shock over the suicides and sought the Centre's intervention to help more than 30 lakh people dependent on the construction industry. The JSP plans to hold a massive rally in Visakhapatnam on November 3.
With inputs from IANS