Environmental impact assessment of sand mining from the small catchment rivers in the Southwestern Coast of India: A case study
In the past few decades, the demand for construction grade sand is increasing in many parts of the world due to rapid economic development and subsequent growth of building activities. This, in many of the occasions, has resulted in indiscriminate mining of sand from in-stream and floodplain areas leading to severe damages to the river basin environment. The case is rather alarming in the small catchment rivers like those draining the southwestern coast of India due to limited sand resources in their alluvial reaches. Moreover, lack of adequate information on the environmental impact of river sand mining is a major lacuna challenging regulatory efforts in many developing countries. Therefore, a scientific assessment is a pre-requisite in formulating management strategies in the sand mining-hit areas. In this context, a study has been made as a case to address the environmental impact of sand mining from the in-stream and floodplain areas of three important rivers in the southwestern coast of India namely the Chalakudy, Periyar and Muvattupuzha rivers, whose lowlands host one of the fast developing urban-cum-industrial centre, the Kochi city. The study reveals that an amount of 11.527 million ty(-1) of sand (8.764 million ty(-1) of in-stream sand and 2.763 million ty(-1) of floodplain sand) is being mined from the midland and lowland reaches of these rivers for construction of buildings and other infrastructural facilities in Kochi city and its satellite townships. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out as a part of this investigation shows that the activities associated with mining and processing of sands have not only affected the health of the river ecosystems but also degraded its overbank areas to a large extent. Considering the degree of degradation caused by sand mining from these rivers, no mining scenario may be opted in the deeper zones of the river channels. Also, a set of suggestions are made for the overall improvement of the rivers and its biophysical environment.