The increasing demand for sand in the construction sector is causing severe environmental degradation across the world. This is more challenging in Himalayan states as massive destruction of rivers and streams has been caused in recent years due to riverbed mining. The rivers and streams in Jammu & Kashmir have been disfigured and vandalised during the last one decade as large amounts of sand are excavated on a daily basis. This was not much challenging 15 or 20 years back as most of the work was done manually, but as huge cranes and bulldozers are being used to excavate sand from rivers, the destruction has increased manifold. The beautiful streams that had a distinctive landscape a few years back look like bombarded places as huge trucks and bulldozers have not only caused destruction in riverbeds, but the river embankments have been disfigured as well. I have been writing and researching on this for more than a year now. Unfortunately this destruction is happening in the name of urbanisation and so called development. But actually this is not development; it’s destruction. Earlier due to high demand for timber, we destroyed our forests for almost 20 to 25 years, especially during the militancy of 1990s. That has come down to a great extent as imported timber came into our market. Excessive use of sand and other riverbed material (RBM) is threatening our rivers and streams.
Alternative Building Materials (ABMs)
The construction sector has undergone a radical change during the last two decades. In Jammu & Kashmir especially in Kashmir valley huge houses and shopping malls are being constructed. Not only in cities and towns, we see huge mansions coming up in villages and remote areas of Kashmir. Every family is in a competition with their relatives and neighbours vis a vis having a huge concrete house. Agriculture land is being sold to make huge mansions and shopping complexes. This is a matter of serious concern as the agriculture land holding is coming down drastically. Unofficially the agriculture land holding in Kashmir valley is less than ½ acre (4 kanals) which was almost an acre 15 years back. The paddy cultivation has come down drastically. To create huge concrete structures we need more building material like bricks, sand, cement, gravel and quarry stones. This is impacting our rivers, streams, mountains, karewas and agricultural land. The rates of building material are also going up beyond our imagination. A truck of sand is sold @ Rs 13000 to 16000 on an average, while the same was available only for Rs 6000 to 8000, some 2 to 3 years back. Most of the streams & rivers have a lot of sand and other riverbed material left inside them as a large amount of RBM is excavated for construction of highways and roadways which is again destroying these natural resources. Can we afford to construct huge concrete structures with traditional construction material like sand, bricks, cement, gravel, clay etc., in Kashmir after 10 to 15 years? No, not at all. We have to lookout for alternative building materials now. Our Government must create a separate cell for it, especially under the Public Works Department (PWD). Such cells should be set up in Municipalities & other local bodies.
ABMs are increasingly being used to replace the conventional and traditional building materials like clay bricks, sand etc. In some areas in Africa earth based materials are modified with plant residues or animal dung to improve the durability and the architectural aesthetics of houses. Depending on the locally available resources and the level of affordability of the residents, industrialised ABMs such as cement and lime are also being put into use in most Sub Saharan African nations.
Alternative to Sand
Concrete is an important material used in the construction sector. It consists of cement and sand.As we all know the sand is mostly obtained from rivers & streams and happens to be the primary material used in manufacturing concrete. River sand used to be found in abundance in Kashmir valley only a decade back and this was available on cheap rates as well. As more and more concrete structures started coming up its demand increased and this led to illegal sand mining or riverbed mining. This has now turned into a mafia as Govt agencies are working hand in glove with this mafia. A handful of honest officers in Geology & Ming Department, Police, Flood Control or Fisheries Departments who want to curb this menace are feeling suffocated and helpless. This author was forced to seek intervention of National Green Tribunal (NGT) as illegal riverbed mining (RBM) continues in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga. The extraction of river sand affects the river ecology and surrounding agriculture land. The other disadvantages of using river sand are given as follows:
= Global scarcity of natural sand
= Growing demands for fine aggregates in construction
= Remotely located sand pits
= Presence of silt and clay in river sand
The non-availability of river sand & its huge cost has resulted in finding a new replacement to sand in concrete. Thus, discovering the substitutes for sand has been of great importance in the field of construction.
Due to the depletion of good quality river sand, the manufactured sand commonly known as M-Sand is said to be the alternative to conventional sand obtained from rivers, streams etc. M Sand is manufactured in industries/quarries by crushing rocks, quarry stones or larger aggregate pieces into sand sized particles. For various construction works, different suitable grades of M-sand are used. The main advantage of M-sand is that it is cheaper than river sand. In many cities of India the price of M-sand is 50 % less than river sand. M-sand is considered to be the best construction material discovered in recent times.
For the last many years cement has been used with shredded plastic waste to make paver blocks. This not only reduces the cost of paver blocks when compared to that of conventional concrete paver blocks. Almost 60 lakh tonnes of plastic waste is produced in India every year. By putting into use shredded waste plastic, saw dust obtained from construction and demolition waste (C&D waste), we can not only make efficient use of waste plastic but this will also reduce the pressure of landfills. Under C&D Rules 2016, Govt has to provide facilities like land to entrepreneurs who wish to set up C&D waste management units. Moreover 10 to 20 % construction material used in public works has made of C&D waste and this is part of the C&D Rules 2016.
To obtain river sand or rubble or gravel will be a challenging task after 5 to 10 years. It is really unfortunate that people in Kashmir have been going for unnecessary constructions like making huge shopping complexes around residential areas. As per my personal experience I see most of these shops remain un-utilised & are locked with shutters down since they were constructed. We have to stop these useless constructions which drain our economy and cause environmental destruction. Government and private construction players must go for innovations and opt for alternative construction materials like M-sand or plastic reinforced cement concrete paver blocks made from construction and demolition waste (C&D waste). This is the only way to stop illegal mining and protect our rivers from further destruction. This will also help protect our mountains, and karewas.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement and Anant Fellow for Climate Action.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.