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Sand shortage hits TN

With only 10 of the State’s 38 sand quarries functional, over 40% construction activity has been hit. Nidhi Adlakha reports

If the builder or developer of your new home has pushed the moving-in date further, it’s probably due to the sand crisis in Tamil Nadu. It has affected all building projects, including government ones like the Metro Rail. With only 10 of its 38 sand quarries functional, over 30-40% of construction activity has been hit across the State. The sand shortage and its volatile price escalation is a major cause for concern in the real estate and infrastructure sectors.

Why the shortage

Experts say the crisis is primarily due to the lapse in many sand quarry leases and the increased smuggling of sand to neighbouring States. According to the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department (PWD), 5,500-6,000 truckloads of 200 cu. ft. of sand each are mined each day, but the real figure is estimated at around 55,000 truckloads of 400 cu. ft. each per day. A. Shankar, National Director, JLL, says this is why the State has banned illegal mining in many quarries, which has also made obtaining and renewing permits/ licences for new or existing quarries difficult.

Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Tiruvallur districts are the worst hit. These areas used to receive 10,000 truckloads of sand a day and are receiving only 2,000 since the last two-and-a-half months. R. Muniratham, who has been the Tamil Nadu Sand Lorry Owners Association’s President since 1995, says obtaining clearances for newly identified quarries from the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) is the need of the hour. “The SEIAA’s Chairman retired last year and his position hasn’t been filled. Only once the Chairman issues a permit, the district collector verifies and approves a clearance.” Muniratham has written to the CM and to the PWD, but no action has been taken yet.

Impact on developers

At present, only 30% of Chennai’s sand demand is being catered to and there is a need for a further 10,000 truckloads. All major infrastructure projects have taken a beating due to the escalation in sand prices, says T. Chitty Babu, CREDAI Chairman (Best Practices). “This crisis has arrived at a time when the market was recovering. Even major government projects like the Metro Rail and other roadworks have been hit.”

With sand coming in only from Trichy, Cuddalore and Villipuram, costs have escalated, impacting developers and individual builders. In the past month alone, sand prices almost doubled, rising from Rs. 30-40 per cu. ft to Rs. 70-80 per cu. ft. “The crisis is severely affecting ongoing projects and we urge the government to look into the matter. Many small-scale developers have stopped projects temporarily as costs have shot up,” says S. Ramachandran, VP Projects, Doshi Housing.

“We are facing major losses — we have 75,000 sand lorries in the State and they are rarely required today,” adds Muniratham.

Ecological imbalance

Excessive mining on river beds to meet the increasing demand for sand from the construction industry has led to severe ecological imbalance. The fact that rivers are running dry is being used as a reason to mine them for sand. The bigger issue is mining done under the guise of river restoration, say experts. More than rivers, wetlands are being exploited for sand mining across Tamil Nadu. Rivers in the public eye are better protected, but rivers such as the Cheyyar, the Vegavathy, and smaller streams are being destroyed.

The sand available now is coarse, and contains a high percentage of silt and clay. This retains moisture and reduces the strength of the concrete. Mica, coal, fossils, and other organic impurities also make the sand useless for concrete work. The acute shortage and high price for river sand has also led to adulteration using sea sand, which has raised serious concern among builders, according to Shankar.

Sand substitutes

To cope with the crisis, developers are now finding other alternatives. Manufactured sand or M-sand is the most popular substitute for river sand. It is produced by crushing hard granite, and the crushed particles are cubical in shape with grounded edges — it is washed and graded to construction standards.

The concrete’s durability is ensured, as M-sand doesn’t contain organic and soluble compounds that affect the setting time and properties of cement. Impurities such as clay, dust and silt coatings are also absent, increasing quality and durability. But its usage is limited to only concrete and block work, as river sand is still preferred for plastering.

Surendra Hiranandani, Chairman & MD, House of Hiranandani, who replaced sand cement plasters with Gypsum Vermiculate Plaster (GVP) in the early 90s, says it helped reduce the company’s dependency on river sand tremendously. “GVP plaster gives a smoother finish and doesn’t require water curing. While a few areas still require river sand, the total usage has been reduced overall,” he says.

Other alternatives that developers could opt for include granulated blast furnaces slag, formed during the production of steel, quarry dust, and foundry sand.

Way ahead

The situation can improve only when Tamil Nadu drafts a strong mining policy. Adequate monitoring and inspection of sand quarries is also required. To avoid contradictory orders passed by different subordinate courts and benches of the Madras High Court, it is important that all matters pertaining to sand mining are consolidated and heard by the same bench, says Shankar.

Source: The Hindu