Kochi: Kerala is seeking the Union government’s permission to become the first state in India to mine sand from the sea, as it struggles to overcome a shortage of the construction material and aims to curb illegal extraction from rivers.
Offshore sand mining is banned in India under the coastal regulation zone rules, except for a few rare minerals.
“We haven’t received any such proposal from the state government and if we do, it won’t be simple,” said an environment ministry official who did not want to be identified.
Listen to Thrivikramji, a geology professor at University of Kerala, talk about why Kerala should in fact resort to sand mining
Some sand mining is allowed in the Andaman Islands, “Even for that they had to go through the Supreme Court,” the official said.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI) made a presentation to the Kerala industries department on 7 October, identifying large potential deposits along the state’s coast. These deposits can help meet Kerala’s requirement for about 30 million tonnes (mt) of sand a year, said A.C. Dinesh, a GSI scientist.
T. Balakrishnan, Kerala industries secretary and head of a three-member panel on sand mining and its illegal removal, said the committee is considering the sea as a potential alternative source. The panel, which will submit its report in three months, has sought the public’s views by 20 October.
The GSI surveys indicate fine-to-medium sand at a depth of 1-1.5m below the sea floor, 15-50km off the coast. The agency had been looking for alternative sources of land-based minerals.
“There is great potential to develop offshore sand resources and dredging at selected locations to meet sand supply needs in terms of quantity, quality and competitive pricing,” Dinesh said.
GSI has found similar deposits off Karnataka and is surveying the east coast as well.
Sea sand is not considered ideal for construction because of its salinity. GSI says it can be washed and used.
“Moreover, sand from the seabed has minerals such as monosite, ilmenite and rutile that can be segregated and used in the chemical industry, and the calcium carbonate deposits can be used by the cement industry,” Dinesh said.
State officials say about 1.2 mt of sand is mined illegally from rivers every year, posing a serious environmental threat.
Kerala has attracted large projects in recent years, including a container trans-shipment terminal, a liquid natural gas terminal, information technology parks and large housing projects.
Environmentalists warn against exploitation of the sea, but say offshore mining can help reduce the impact of the illegal digging from the rivers.
A. Latha, head of Kerala-based River Research Centre, a not-for-profit body, says rampant mining of river beds has led to serious environmental hazards, destroying the state’s river ecology.
Several rivers and ponds are drying as the removal of sand increases the base flow of groundwater to the rivers, thus depleting groundwater levels, she said.
Padmaparna Ghosh in New Delhi contributed to this story.