Activists pointed out this move can cause flash floods in times of heavy downpour.

A dry sand bed of a Bengaluru lake
news Environment Sunday, May 10, 2020 - 20:12

The Karnataka government’s decision to pass an ordinance to allow sand mining in the freshwater beds of the state during the lockdown has shocked environmentalists in the state.

Until now, sand mining was only allowed in river basins and delta regions of the state. With the ordinance passed on April 30, sand can be mined from tanks, ponds and patta land in gram panchayat areas.

The government will identify and auction these sand beds, and aims to raise a sum of Rs 70 crore through it.

While the state government has reasoned that the move will allow for cheap sand for construction purposes for the people in the state, environmental activists have said this will have dangerous results that will impact people's lives which outweigh the Rs 70 crore revenue that will be added to the government’s kitty.

Flash floods, shortage of drinking water and the death of aquatic animals are some of the immediate impacts environmentalists warned of.

Criticising the move by the government, former IFS (Indian Forest Service) officer and noted environmentalist AN Yellappa Reddy said, “This move is highly detrimental to the environment. We have to realize that the sandbed provides an excellent living media for aquatic plants and animals. Most aquatic animals — frogs, crabs, fish — won’t survive otherwise. This will completely kill the biodiversity of these water bodies and without these plants and animals, the water won’t remain clean. They are also important for keeping the dissolved oxygen levels and also without the organic material that is released into the water won’t be converted into biomass.”

He added that another important aspect was that during heavy rains or when there is a high inflow of water, the speed of runoff is reduced due to the sand. “The sandbed can also trap the organic matter and allow water to infiltrate the earth and recharge groundwater. If we scrape off every grain of sand, then the lake beds will be sterile. When there is heavy rainfall, this can cause flash floods,” he added. 

Karnataka has been already facing successive years of drougts and the disaster management department has to arrange drinking water through tankers in many villages.

Activist Sandeep Anirundhan said that activists across the state will run social media campaigns against the move and some groups are also thinking about approaching the court to stop environmental destruction. He pointed out similar decisions in the Cauvery delta region in Tamil Nadu have left the region water scarce.

He said, “It will finish off the freshwater ecosystem. Freshwater fishes have already reduced by more than 80% due to pollution and overfishing.” 

He added, "Instead of promoting the consumption of sand and cement which are unsustainable and destroy our habitat. These create  huge carbon footprints and pollution in our life cycle, the government should instead promote sustainable construction with local resources.  Architects say that up to 4 floors, no concrete  or cement is required. The governmwent should lay stress on reviving traditional building techniques that are environment friendly and do not require sand or cement."