Tuesday, February 4, 2020

India’s sand mafia


300 trucks a day take their fill of sand at a mine on the Sone River in Bihar state.
Sand is a lucrative commodity in India. It fuels a black market for the illegal strip-mining of waterways. Profits from India’s construction boom help keep the sand mining frontier lawless. Sand miners have killed those who oppose them.

Our modern world is built on sand: concrete, paved roads, ceramics, metallurgy, petroleum fracking, even the glass on smart phones. River sand is best: desert sand is too rounded to serve as industrial binding agents, and marine sand is corrosive.
Sand has become so valuable that it is shipped huge distances. Australia sends sand to Arabia for land reclamation. China, the world’s builder, is also a sand glutton. The world uses 50 billion tonnes of this kind of sand every year — more than any other natural resource, except for water. India’s sand mafia is well established. It is said the police cut of royalties inflates the price of river sands from 15k rupees (about $150) a truckload to between 40k and 80k rupees.
A scarcity of sand, and efforts to regulate sand mining, have spawned an illegal trade. The demand for sand is so intense in some places that criminal gangs have taken over the trade completely.