Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh government has launched an initiative of entrusting sand mining to women self-help groups, which is essentially expected to curb the thriving sand mafia.
The move will ensure economic empowerment of women as part of the government's 'Pedarikam pai gelupu' (victory over poverty) drive and make sand available at a reasonable price to customers.
The income generated from sand mining and sale will be routed to the Farmers' Empowerment Corporation (FEC), that was launched last week for implementing the farmers' debt redemption scheme.
A pilot sand mining scheme undertaken in East Godavari district under the new Sand Mining Policy-2014 has met with "tremendous success", encouraging the government to extend it across the state, an official in chief minister's office said.
Of the 1.9 lakh cubic metres of sand extracted under the supervision of women SHGs, 40,000 cubic meters has already been sold, earning an income of Rs 2.95 crore, as per the information provided by the CMO.
Of the total income, 25 percent will go to the women SHGs and the balance to the FEC which will also undertake various other programmes for farmers' empowerment and making agriculture a profitable venture.
There are 81 identified sand reaches, including 11 inter-state sharing sites, in Andhra Pradesh. Hitherto, these reaches were allotted to private contractors through auction and subsequently through draw of lots.
The contractors allegedly formed a cartel and ensured the reaches fell in their own hands. Sand price shot up to as high as Rs 24,000 per tonne, escalating the cost of building construction across the state.
"Income to government in the form of sand seigniorage was too meagre to note, whereas the contractors made a killing. The ultimate losers were the end customers as they had to pay a hefty price," a district Collector pointed.
It is alleged that though the government allotted sand extraction through desiltation to the local fishermen and boatsmen societies, it was actually the sand syndicates that did the work, often using machines, in violation of the Supreme Court order.
Under the Sand Mining Policy-2014, all sand reaches will be entrusted to AP Mineral Development Corporation.
The APMDC, in turn, will allot the reaches to the district/mandal 'Mahila Samakhyas' (women groups) or 'Grama Sanghams' (village organisations) for undertaking quarrying depending on the potential of each sand reach, according to Principal Secretary (Industries) J S V Prasad.
"The extraction will be carried out scientifically and the entire process will be monitored using closed-circuit television cameras at quarry sites as well as stock points," Prasad said.
Sand would be made available at reasonable prices both at the quarry site and at various stock points that were being established. Payments will, however, be through online banking only as cash transactions are not permitted to check illicit operations.
The state government has decided to arrange a loan of Rs 5 lakh from banks to each village organisation for sand mining and sale, an official in CMO said.
While eliminating the sand mafia is the prime focus of the state government, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu wants the women SHGs to be motivated to "own" the activity so that it enables them to make sand sale a robust business and reap profits, he said.