The Andhra Pradesh government has scrapped the existing free sand policy and has come out with a new one. The new policy came into force from September 5 and the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) is the agency which has now been tasked with operating stockyards.
Shortly after coming to power, in May, the government had formed a committee to frame the new sand policy which aims to curtail hoarding and black marketing and bring down sand prices. The YSRCP felt that the sand policy under the TDP government was flawed and was accommodating ruthless exploitation of sand reaches in river streams and rivulets. The government alleged that the policy was pro-middlemen and was damaging the interests of genuine consumers.
To address this, a committee was set up with a Group of Ministers, that included the departments of Revenue, Finance, Home, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, Mines and Geology and Water Resources, to finalise the modalities of a new sand policy that ensures "sustainable sand mining, compliance to environmental regulations, ensuring affordable prices of sand and raising valuable public revenues to the state exchequer."
What the new policy states
The state government has said that the APMDC Ltd will act as an agent to operate on behalf of the government, and to supervise "quarrying and supply to achieve the objectives of sustainable sand mining, compliance to environmental regulations, ensuring affordable prices of sand and raising valuable public revenues to the state exchequer."
Based on the capacity of the water bodies (rivers, rivulets, streams and tanks), the state government has now classified excavation under categories I to V and higher. Water bodies that fall under category I, II and III will be regulated by the district administration for consumption within the district for domestic needs. Sand extracted under this category – for housing schemes for government-sponsored weaker sections – will be free of cost with nominal applicable charges. The government said that in such cases, sand excavation should be done manually and no machinery should be used. Sourced sand should be transported to the nearest specified stockyards for subsequent disposal by APMDC Ltd.
In such cases, the Tahsildar of the Mandal concerned shall issue a permit on the payment of sale price per ton, as fixed by the government, in case the consumer wants to excavate sand for domestic use.
The state government said that the sand excavation in river streams falling under categories IV, V and higher, will be subject to Andhra Pradesh Minor Mineral Concession Rules (APMMC) 1966, Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1996 and other environmental rules and regulations.
According to the new sand policy, a tonne of sand will be available for Rs 370 only at APMDC-run stockyards.
The policy also states under the higher categories, the District Collector shall obtain all statutory clearances such as Approved Mining Plan, Environmental Clearance, Consent for Establishment and Operation from concerned authorities, before the commencement of operation by APMDC.
As part of the new policy, the government, which has already set up 41 stock points across 13 districts in the state, aims to increase them to 70-80 in a phase-wise manner by October.
Under the policy, the APMDC can even identify certain private agricultural patta lands in which sand is cast, which may fall within a river bed or outside it, and pay the owner or pattadar of the land, a beneficiary amount as fixed by the District Collector, to transfer excavation rights to the corporation. The APMDC will pay Rs 60 per cubic metre to the farmers.
Sand extraction in the reaches that are located in Scheduled Areas, either partially or fully, will be governed as per the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Rules, 2011, and will take place under the direct supervision and control of the ITDA or District Collector and Magistrate concerned.
In a bid to curb corruption, the state said that all vehicles carrying sand from sand reaches to the stockyard and subsequently from the stockyard to the consumers will have to be equipped with GPS devices and the vehicles must be registered with the APMDC and the Mines & Geology Department.
The state has also issued strict instructions that the extracted sand should not be transported outside the state of Andhra Pradesh and the transaction of the sale should be credited directly to the treasury account of the government, either through online Net Banking/Debit card/Credit card/others or through the Mee-Seva centres by the consumers.
APMDC shall allot the work of sand extraction, loading and transportation of sand to the stockyard, ramp maintenance, loading of sand into dispatch vehicles at the stockyard through a competitive reverse tendering process, the state government said.
The APMDC also said that it will set up CCTV cameras at sand reaches, stockyards and weighbridges to monitor sand operations and vehicular movement.
The need for a new policy
It can be noted here that in December last year, a bench headed by National Green Tribunal Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel issued orders to the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh to prohibit all unregulated sand mining. The NGT also slapped an interim penalty of Rs 100 crore for the state's 'inaction' in preventing mining. This was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
As the case was being heard by the NGT, in January 2019, a seven-member team from the Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Board visited eight locations, including the location near the residence of the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. The team confirmed the mechanised and "unscientific excavation of sand" in Krishna river, based on which NGT slapped the fine.
The report which made certain observations and recommendations said that a total of about 34,650 tonnes of river sand was being mechanically excavated from River Krishna in a day, in just the 8 locations they visited.
It also pointed out that about 2,500 trucks, lorries and tractors are operated per day for transporting the extracted sand.
The report has also highlighted potential concerns due to de-siltation in the upstream of the Prakasam barrage in Krishna district, which was being permitted upto the depth of 25 feet. The committee noted that this may lead to bank erosion.
Under the new policy, the state government said that de-siltation would be carried out only by the APMDC or the Irrigation Department.
More comprehensive policy needed, say activists
However, while the new sand policy has certain positive provisions, it seems to be overlooking environmental concerns that are already in play given the rich river and coastal ecology of Andhra Pradesh.
Speaking to TNM, former Union Government Secretary and environmental activist EAS Sarma said, "The principle of sustainable sand mining is that the quantity of sand mined from a stretch in a year should not exceed the quantity deposited. In the absence of scientific studies, whatever policy adopted in a hurry is not going to help."
He also said that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be conducted before allowing the quarrying or excavation, as per the Supreme Court's past order, stating, "EIA should be done based not only on the likely impact of sand mining in a river stretch on the local environment but also on the basis of a scientific assessment of how much sand can be mined."
Sarma says that though the policy seems to be designed to address the issue of distributing sand to 'genuine users', and to avoid a large number of intermediaries who aim to cash in on the sand excavation, there is more to be done.
He added, "Secondly, as far as the policy on the supply of sand, once mined, is concerned, AP's new guidelines eliminate the middlemen and help ensure that sand reaches the genuine users at a reasonable price. Of course, the proof of the pudding lies in its eating. We should wait and watch as to how it works, as many political leaders on either side of the fence run sand mafias."