Vivekanand Gupta deals in all kinds of building materials. The locks hanging from the wall behind him, the neatly rolled up plastic pipes and the packaged water pumps are proof enough. Yet, the shine on the new locks wanes in comparison with the “worth” of the grey mound of sand at the shop’s entrance. In fact, outside every shop that supplies building materials on this road in Madanpur Khadar JJ colony sits a grey mound, damp from the morning rain.

Mr. Gupta, like every other shopkeeper on the stretch, sources his sand from villages — Asgarpur and Raipur — the Yamuna. Ever since the National Green Tribunal on Monday banned sand mining on riverbeds without Environment Ministry clearance, building material suppliers claim that rates have increased (from Rs.10,000 to Rs. 13,000 per truck) and in some parts supply has been cut off.

Two hundred metres from Mr. Gupta’s shop is Shyam Building Material. “Supply has been stopped for about a week,” said the owner, Alok Singh. “They [transporters] say the police will catch the trucks coming across the river.”

Shopkeepers are now considering asking for a receipt for the consignment to avoid getting into trouble.

These ‘transporters’, who Mr. Gupta also mentions, are middlemen in the lucrative business of sand mining that largely takes shape after dark.

“A truckload once used to cost Rs. 2,400,” offers Shiv Building Material’s proprietor Dinesh Chandra. The business is so lucrative now, said shopkeepers, that policemen are keen on being posted in stations near the river banks. The going rate for looking the other way when illegal mining takes places is Rs. 10,000 per month per tractor.

The villagers who physically extract the sand gain the most, said Mr. Gupta. “There are close to 150-200 tractors used to extract sand. Where possible it is done manually and if not, through machines. The transporters or truck drivers are just the go-between. They buy from the villagers and sell to us,” he said.

‘Legal mining’

However, he said there is such a thing called “legal extraction” that is carried out as well. “The government issues tenders to allow people to extract sand. At the moment, there is only one man who holds the licence to do so and he has been favoured, as far as I know, for the past 40 years,” said Mr. Gupta.

If the transporters line up for the sand that has been mined “legally”, they are also issued a 24-hour permit to transport it anywhere in the area even though the whole area can be traversed in two-hours.

“So what they do is line up at the legal site, pick up a truckload, deposit it in a nearby safe locality and come back and queue up at the illegal sites,” said Mr. Gupta. “If at any point they are stopped by the authorities, they show the 24-hour permit and say the sand is legitimate.” Repeated trips help pay off the price (Rs. 20 lakh each) of the trucks.

“Frankly, we are not interested in knowing how they acquired the sand,” confessed Mr. Gupta. “It [sand] should be clean and light.”

Courtesy: The Hindu