2020 Jan 6
A conflict in opinions has risen with the recent removal of permits required to transport sand, granite and soil. The move was initiated by a cabinet decision on 4 December 2019 due to the delay in obtaining the permits, despite the time frame of one day listed on the Government Information Center website. The decision stems from the number of requests made by construction industry members calling for its removal since it was imposed last year.
Another issue that arose apart from the delay in obtaining the permit was the frequent stopping of vehicles transporting raw materials are stopped by the Police multiple times to ensure the validity of the permit. This has led to a further delay in the raw materials being delivered to the sites on time and affecting the overall process of construction. This also leads to the incurring of additional costs by construction developers. The issues have allegedly not been addressed by authorities although the topic has been brought up by industry numerous times.
Sand mining contributes to many factors that affect the environment negatively. River sand is in high demand as it requires low processing and is of a better quality, however its mining may alter the river bed, erode banks and lead to flooding. It can also lead to the destructions of habitats and disrupt ecosystems.
Environmentalist Jayantha Wijesinghe believes that cost cutting is not a valid reason for the removal of the permit
“So far the prices have not been reduced by taking away the transport permit. The soil and minerals were already cheap comparatively when it was cut illegally. Properly following the procedure would mean you will have to go through a certain process and it will not come cheap, however, if you do it by illicit means, it is going to to come cheap”.
Mr Wijesinghe also stated that the presence of the permit was only an issue for illegal sand miners.
“It was not an issue in the first place. It was an issue for the people who did illegally. Of course we know any permit that we have to obtain can be seen as an issue. Just because the permit procedure is cumbersome does not mean the approval process must be removed. There will be a lot of illegal activity by removing the transport permit. What this is, is making something illegal a legal process”.
“The transport permit basically tells you when you can transport substance and how much you can transport at a time. Therefore it tells you which vehicle you can use to transport the material as well as which routes you can use. It also allows regulators to monitor where the goods are sourced from. If they are illegally sourced, the best way to track them down is the transportation permit. Practically, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) cannot monitor all the mining locations and the transport permit controlled both the mining and transportation. It also acted as a mining permit in a way, because when you transport goods, the police will know where the goods are coming from and which route they are taking. When the truck comes to the road, it doesn’t matter where you mined it from because the police cannot arrest you. The removal of the transportation permit in fact, is encouraging illegal mining”.
“Since there is no way to monitor the mining and there is nothing that the police can do, this decision will impact the environment immensely. Whether its sand, soil, metal, gravel or anything like that it is going to be heavily mined in unsuitable locations. That will soon degrade all of our rivers and our eco-systems. And now since there is no more permit, we can assume that they will transport a massive quantity, so if a rock was supposed to be mined over ten years, they would mine it in six months or one year so the resources would finish in a year. Its very unsustainable”.
“In an era where we speak about sustainable development goals, I don’t see a reason as to why we should remove approval, which has to be tightened not loosened. When sand is mined, it kills rivers, the sediment gets established and affects wildlife. River banks will get destroyed and the river gets widened and soil erosion will be greater. Bamboo and kumbuk trees will start falling into the river and the rivers will get muddy. Infertile and unusable land will be left which cannot even support micro organisms that live in soil. The speed of destruction will be increased”.
Mr Wijesinghe also believes that there are alternate solutions rather than the removal of the permit.
“The construction industry will be happy that they can bypass this law. If the transport permit increases the price of sand or costs the business, you can issue free permits or issue it at a lower cost. If the procedure is a cumbersome one, it is possible to make it faster and simpler. Or you could make it digital. If there is corruption involved in terms of transportation, as some have suggested, there are more innovative, rational ways that you can address the issue.”
“We have to be very careful in using natural resources because they take millions of years to form. 21 million people will be affected by the destruction of natural earth resources while a handful of construction companies will be happy”.
“My opinion of removing the permit is a very myopic, very shortsighted one because mining permits were never regulated or monitored. The transportation permit did all of that. That permit was so important because it controlled pretty much mining activity itself.
“Rate of developement of the construction industry worth the environmental harm? No, absolutely not. There are smarter ways to deal with existing issues, if there are any. But I think this rate of growth in terms of the construction industry is probably not a sustainable choice because we will be dumping millions of cubes and cubic metres of sand in various places”.