ED ropes in ISRO, IIT Kanpur to probe illegal sand mining

Context: The Directorate of Enforcement (ED) has roped in experts from the ISRO and the IIT-Kanpur to assist in its ongoing investigation into allegations of excessive sand mining in Tamil Nadu. 

Present status:

  • Led by China and India, the world is mining sand at unsustainable levels exceeding the replenishment rate.
  • The report ‘Sand and Sustainability: Finding new solutions for environmental governance of global sand resources’ stressed that the global demand for sand and gravel stands at 40-50 billion tonnes per year, which could increase to 60 billion tonnes per year by 2030.


  • Alterations in channel morphology: Excessive sand mining can alter the river bed, force the river to change course, erode banks.
  • Increase in disasters like floods, soil erosion, desertification, landslides, drought etc.
  • Impacts on ecology and biodiversity- It also destroys the habitat of aquatic animals and micro-organisms.
  • Reduction of groundwater recharges. 
  • Alterations in sediment load – nutrient deficiency in downstream areas lead to loss of agricultural productivity. 
  • Pollution in rivers, coastal areas as well as marine areas.
  • Without proper protection and safety -> Excessive mining also leads to drowning of workers involved in such activities. 

Some examples and case studies

  1. Chanubi lake and Kulsi ricer (Assam) – > Chandubi lake was formed in 1897 as the result of a major earthquake in the region during which a forest area went down and became a lake. Since then it has supported a rich biodiversity. Howeve it is connected to a river Kulsi nearby which is prone to illegal sand mining. The river is increasingly getting deeper and water from the Chandubi lake is flowing into the river, resulting in Chandubi getting shallower and drained out.
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  1. Narmada river – Sand mining has adversely impacted the ecology of the Narmada river, including threats to fish and other aquatic species. The mahseer (Endangered), often referred to as the “queen of the river” because of its colour or the “tiger of the river” because of its size, is now rarely found in Narmada. Sand mining affects the natural ecosystem of the river and impacts the fish and birds that are dependent on it. This in turn impacts livelihoods of fishers who rely on the ecosystem.
  2. Yamuna river: Once invited huge numbers of Sarus cranes, flamingos and migratory birds in the thousands. Fish like Mahseer, Lalpari, Rohu were also found in large numbers. But all that began to disappear when sand extraction started. The noise of the machines prevented birds from visiting. Nocturnal animals too went away. 
  3. Global oceans: Some six billion tonnes of sand is being extracted annually from the floor of the world’s oceans, causing irreparable damage to benthic life, according to a new global data platform on sand and other sediment extraction in the marine environment. The new data platform, Marine Sand Watch, has been developed by GRID-Geneva, a Centre for Analytics within the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


  • Section 23C of the MMDR Act 1957, empowers the State Governments to make rules for preventing illegal mining, transportation and storage of minerals and for the purposes connected therewith. Thus, minor minerals are regulated at the level of State Government.
  • Section 20-A of the MMDR Act, 1957, incorporated by 2015 Amendment gives Central Government the power to issue directions to the State Governments, for the efficient conservation of mineral resources.
  • Sand should be brought under the category of major minerals and the Centre should regulate all operations relating to sand mining. The Centre should frame guidelines that uniformly apply to sand mining in all the States.
  • A few states are exploring options like manufactured sand, produced by crushing of rocks and quarry stones, to meet the ever-increasing demand of the construction industry. 
  • The new sand mining framework suggests the use of geo-fencing, and GPS-enabled transportation to check illegal mining.
  • Mining Surveillance System (MSS) to use space technology for facilitating State governments in curbing illegal mining activities in the country.
  • Price control, the involvement of women self-help groups and regular audits of sand reserves have also been recommended.
  • International collaboration is required as it is becoming a transboundary issue. Illegal trade is also growing.
  • The end consumer who is purchasing sand should be able to produce a bill for the same otherwise the dealing would be termed illegal.

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