India’s annual use of construction sand has tripled since the year 2000. The government’s plans to build 20 million affordable urban houses by 2023 and increase its spending on roads and railways to record levels are all expected to push demand for cement, whose production requires sand as a key input material. India has never built on such a scale in the past and yet housing has never been less available as slums are growing larger and larger.
By 2024, 1.4 billion tons of sand will be required in India for apartment towers, highways, bridges, skyscrapers, metros and dams. More than half the apartments built during India’s construction boom can be found in the New Delhi metropolitan area. One of the highest concentrations of these apartments is in Greater Noida, a suburb that lies between the two most sacred rivers in Hindu lore: the Yamuna to the west, and the Ganges to the east. Both rivers are heavily mined, and it’s easy to see where all that sand goes.
Sand mafia is the most powerful criminal organization in India. People who control the sand mafia also control the construction business and in addition to that they control the administration and the police. This completes the all-value chain from extraction to construction.