In 2015, the Telangana state government launched an ambitious project, touted as first in the country, to tackle the menace of illegal sand mining. The state launched a website to curb the black market sale of sand, and allowed all buying and purchasing only through this portal.
But can this website be gamed? If a YouTube video is to believed, there are agents who are still profiteering from illegal sale of sand.
A two-part YouTube video titled, “How to do sand booking online and make 2000 Per Day” tells viewers how one could earn anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 2000 for each booking by striking a deal with lorry drivers.
The government website called ‘sand.telangana.gov.in’ mandates that those who want sand need to do the booking from one of the government operated stockyards across the state. The YouTube video with over 60,000 views explains how one could book sand by striking a deal with any of the lorry drivers approved by the Road Transport Authority. The website lists out the phone numbers of the drivers, and says that a deal could be cut with them to resell this sand at a higher rate.
"I have been doing this for two years," explains the voice in the video. The voice of the man who claims to be Samir says, “I have told my friends and they too do it. One can earn anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 2000 per booking, you can do five to six bookings in a day. If the stockyards are low in stocks the prices will go up," he added.
In the 24 minute video, the bookings were done using the login details of someone named Mohamad Azam Ali Khan. Azam Khan told TNM, "Once you do the booking, the driver can go resell it anywhere. If you own a lorry, you can book for Rs 7,000 and resell it for Rs 14,000 to Rs 16,000. If you don't have a lorry, you can talk to the driver make a deal with him and he will give you your share.”
Azam Khan who claims he owns several lorries says that striking a deal with a driver needn’t always mean that one would get his end of the bargain. “Once you get the message that the sand had been taken from the yard the driver may not keep his end of the bargain, you can get cheated,” he says.
Though the website allows everyone to book sand, these agents say that it is tough for common people to login and book as agents clog the website.
Telangana government is the first in the country to launch a website for selling sand directly to the customer. Other states follow an auctioning system. The sand mining activities in the state are regulated by the Telangana State Mineral Development Corporation Limited (TSMDC).
The state government has also come with a sand taxi policy where any tractor registered with the district Sand Management Society (SMS) can extract sand and transport it directly to the consumer’s address. The sand bookings can be done over an app.
After TNM alerted the Telangana State Mineral Development Corporation Limited (TSMDC) about the YouTube video, the General Manager for IT, Deepti, said, "Our effort here with the website was to register the customers and the vehicles. The reason is to give the customers option for themselves, it was not with an intention that reselling could happen. We have taken various steps over time to fix such loopholes. We will try to take up this issue at our meetings and find a solution to fix it."
The official further added that the state's sand policy was unique as Telangana was the only state where a government undertaking has monopoly over sand, in order to achieve uniform rate for sand across the state.
But not everyone agrees. "Such regulation will push the cost up for the buyers," says Lubna Sarwat, a social worker from Hyderabad who also works on environmental issues, "Almost all of the Telangana government's schemes are open-ended and allows people to employ loopholes in the system."