Sand Mining: An Ecological Threat
- A. Jospeh Thatheyus, Ph.D.
Department of Zoology, The
Madurai - 625 002, Tamil Nadu,
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (2002), 224.
Indiscriminate mining of sand in the river
basins, coastal areas and hill regions of Southern India particularly in the
state of Tamil Nadu has posed serious threats to ecology and social life. Due
to mining, the river bed is exposed to sunlight leading to dry conditions.
Hence water availability has fallen down and the available water turns into
saline. This in turn affects fish
breeding and catch, thus affecting the livelihoods of fisherfolk. Sand mining
affects irrigation and water supply also. The ecology of the lotic habitat is
altered due to sand mining. Sand dunes offer a chance to study the phenomenon
of succession effectively. For
example in Lake Michigan dunes, the succession is slow because of the sand substrate
and a series of communities of various ages are available.It acts as a "natural laboratory
of succession". "Indiana dunes" affected by the encroachment of
industry has become a subject of concern for the conservationists. These areas
not only have a previous natural beauty, but also constitute a natural
"teaching laboratory" for the study of succession of communities
Mangroves like Rhizophora species and
Avicennia species which harbour prawns and fish are essential for mineral cycling
are affected when coastal sand is mined. In the Bible it is said that, "God
gave Solomon the largeness of heart like the sand on the shore" (1 Kings
4:29). But the miners with their
money, muscle power and political influence can mine in the areas even after
the expiry of their licenses.
Because of their selfish attitude they can dig to several metres of
depth, removing 4 to 6 times the permitted quota. The miners have to confine themselves to the areasspecified and the depth of mining
should not exceed 90 cm. The
adverse consequences of this activity includes the depletion of groundwater
supplies, lesser availability of water for industrial, agricultural and
domestic purposes, destruction of cultivable land, loss of employment to farm
labourers, threat to livelihoods, human rights violation and damage to roads
and bridges (Viswanathan, 2002).
In certain areas, there is illegal mining for silicon
sand. Mining of coastal sand for
construction purposes and uranium extraction causes damage to the coastal
ecology, resulting in sea erosion affecting fishing communities. Miners
encroach into the space used by the fishermen to land their catch and keep the
fishing vessels traditionally.
Sand has long been recognized as being unstable, for example in the
Bible, Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not
do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand"
(Mathew 7:26). The disappearance
of sand dunes has made the inland vulnerable to cyclones.Illegal mining results in sea water
intrusion leading to the salinisation of well water and the depletion of
groundwater resources. A contributory factor is that the lorries can operate
only at specific hours due to government restrictions and hence they are overloaded
with the mined sand and the
journeys are accident prone.
Indirectly it causes damage to the roads, bridges and people are
affected with the lungs-related diseases because of the dust from these
The miners are responsible for the
disharmony in local communities and exploit the caste conflicts to their
advantage. It creates rivalry
among the village poor, when miners encourage the local people in mining
activities by giving money, it spoils the general morale and human ethical
values. Agitators against sand
mining have faced custodial violence and human rights violations.
Sand mining resulted in the destruction of numerous coconut
trees along the river basins affecting the growers who were reaping the
benefits for about 100 years. Several
people lost their livelihoods. Even several Palmyrah trees were destroyed
resulting in the migration of agricultural labour, there is an increase in
school dropout rates and rise in number of child workers. To have control over
this ecological threat for the preservation of lotic and marine ecosystems the
government has to enact and enforce stringent laws with effective functioning
of the judiciary system. Environmentalists and soil experts must be consulted
for fixing the areas to be used for soil mining with depth specifications.Voluntary agencies can engage
themselves in creating awareness about this among the public.
Odum EP. 1971. Fundamentals of Ecology.
Third edition, W.B. Saunders Co, London, 574 p.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version (I Kings 4:29;
Genesis 2:17; 32:12; Matthew 7:26).
Viswanathan, S. 2002. Mining dangers. Frontline. May 24 (The Hindu Publications), pp.
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