The continuing paucity of sand has not only affected the common people and those associated with the construction industry, directly or indirectly. It has become clear that a number of government projects, including those for construction of buildings and bridges, have also taken a hit.
The crisis magnified after the police, in late July, cracked the whip on illegal sand mining through raids at Patna, Maner, Ara and in other districts and seized huge stocks of sand. So far, police have confiscated 40 Poclain machines (meant for quarrying sand) and more than 600 trucks and arrested over 200 persons.
The law prohibits mining on the riverbed during monsoon season (July 1 to September 30).
Among the government projects feeling the pinch are those in Patna, such as the new police headquarters building, convention centre, IIT campus, elevated road, flyovers and the Ganga path project. Construct work in other parts of Bihar has been similarly affected, raising fears of cost escalation.
In view of the growing constraints and SOS from many sites, the department of mines and geology has asked district magistrates to earmark 50% of the seized stock of sand for supply to government projects at scheduled rate, while the remaining 50% will go for public auction.
On Thursday, the Patna district administration released half of the seized stock of sand still lying with it, for the government projects to ensure that work does not get hampered for at least next one month.
“We had around 16-lakh cubic feet of seized sand stock left in Patna. The remaining eight lakh cft will be given for public auction on Friday,” said Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar.
Earlier this month, around 62-lakh cubic feet of sand was auctioned in Patna and Saran, fetching a revenue of nearly Rs 20-crore. However,this has still not proved enough and the still available sand is continuing to command exorbitant prices.
“We hope the situation to ease after September 30, when the ban on mining activity in monsoon season will end. Supplies from other districts, where mining licences has not been cancelled, will also reach Patna. More auctions of the seized stocks are scheduled in other districts in the next few days,” said the DM.
Apart from the government projects, work at over 800 construction sites – big or small – has virtually stopped in Patna, with masons and labourers returning home, to their villages, much ahead of festive season, due to joblessness.
“What can we do? This is usually the peak season for work, but this year there has been no work. There is Dussehra, Diwali and Chhath now. All labours have either returned to their villages or moved out of state. I have been in this trade for over 25 years, but never came across such a situation,” said Rajendra Kumar, a labour contractor.
The spiral effect of the sand crisis has been on the allied fields, as well. “There has been a huge dip in sales of cement and iron. We are not able to clear our two-month old stock as there are no buyers. Unless sand is available, nothing will change,” said Pankaj Kumar, who has a cement and iron shop near Gola Road, in western Patna.
Sudhir Kumar of Hind Traders on Exhibition Road, which deals in bathroom fittings, lamented that the sale was down to less than 25%. “Our suppliers are pressurizing us to take supplies, but we cannot. Work has completely stopped. We don’t know how long it will take for things to improve,” he added.