The acute shortage of sand in the state has left nearly 30 lakh construction and other related workers unemployed for the last five months since the YSR Congress government came to power in the state. Although Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy rolled out a new sand policy on September 5 by scrapping the earlier free sand policy claiming to curb the sand mafia, the availability of sand has only gone down stalling construction work across the state, causing hardships to those dependent on the construction sector.
Three workers have committed suicide citing financial reasons due to lack of work, in this month. On October 25, 34-year-old C Nagabrahmaji, mason of Sangam Jagarlamudi village in Guntur, hanged himself at his home. On the same day, P Venkat Rao, a construction worker, hanged himself in the Guntur town. On October 2, Polepalli Venkatesh, who used to work as a plumber, had hanged himself in his home in Gorantla village in Guntur district. A selfie video shot by Venkatesh hours before his death was circulated in the social media recently. In the video he said: “I am totally ashamed of myself because I am unable to take care of my family due to financial problems… for several months now, there is no work, there is no income. My financial condition is very precarious.”
The sand shortage has not only created woes to the nearly 20 lakh construction workers but has affected another 10 lakh workers dependent on the construction sector including carpenters, painters, Rod binders, granite workers, plumbers and other related workers.
The new sand policy has come out with a set of modernised regulations wherein sand is now made available for Rs 370 per tonne at government-owned stockyards operated by Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corp (APMDC). Currently, there are 41 stockyards across 13 districts in the state. Additionally, the new policy made it compulsory to book sand online, introduced a transportation charge, made it mandatory to transport the procured sand on GPS-enabled vehicles to keep a track on black marketeering.
The average demand for sand is estimated to be 1.50 lakh tonnes per day, but reports suggest that only 15,000-20,000 tonnes of sand per day is currently available. Experts and trade unions argue that at this rate, it has become difficult for the construction sector workers to find work. Contractors are complaining that the sand booking gets closed within minutes after it starts at 12 pm every day.
On the other hand, the state government officials are arguing that there is enough quantity of sand in the state, but recent heavy rains have limited the capacity of sand excavation from the Godavari and Krishna riversides.
According to analysts, currently, one tractor (4.5 tonnes) of sand with transportation charges up to 10 km is of cost Rs 2187. This is an increase of Rs 700 from Rs 1500 (considering same quantity and distance transported) during the earlier policy.
Trade Unions including Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has called for a public meeting 'Saamuhika Rayabara Sabha' in Gymkhana grounds in Vijayawada on November 1 demanding that the government grant Rs 10,000 per month allowance to every construction and related workers who lost work due to the crisis. Among other demands include reduction in the cost of sand not exceeding Rs 150 per tonne, simplification of online sand purchase and scrapping of the recently passed Labour code act, 2019.
Opposition parties including Telugu Desam Party, Congress, Left Parties and BJP have criticised the state government for the sand crisis and demanded to compensate the workers who lost employment.
While Left parties have been organising the workers pressuring the government, Jana Sena Party president Pawan Kalyan said that his party will hold a rally on November 3 in Visakhapatnam.