Relentless builds and alternate building blocks

Thanks to ABM, C&D waste is the solution to protect our rivers from further destruction

THE The increasing demand for sand in the construction industry is causing severe environmental degradation worldwide. This is more difficult in the Himalayan states, as massive destruction of rivers and streams has been caused in recent years due to river bed mining. Rivers and streams in Jammu and Kashmir have been defaced and vandalized over the past decade as large amounts of sand are excavated daily. It wasn’t as difficult 15 or 20 years ago when most of the work was done manually. However, as huge cranes and bulldozers are used to extract sand from the rivers, the destruction has multiplied.

The beautiful streams that had a distinctive landscape a few years ago look like bombed places, as huge trucks and bulldozers not only caused destruction in the riverbeds, but also the riverbanks were disfigured.

Unfortunately, this destruction is happening in the name of urbanization and so-called development. Previously, due to the high demand for wood, we destroyed our forests for almost 20 to 25 years especially during the militancy of the 1990s. This decreased to a large extent as imported wood came into our market. Yet the excessive use of sand and other riverbed materials (RBMs) threatens our rivers and streams.

Alternative Building Materials (ABM)

The construction industry has undergone a drastic change, especially in the last 2 decades. In Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the Kashmir valley, huge houses and shopping malls are being built. Not only in towns and villages, we see huge mansions appearing in villages and remote areas of Kashmir. Farmland is sold to make huge mansions and commercial complexes.

This is a matter of serious concern as ownership of agricultural land is drastically decreasing. Unofficially, the agricultural land held in the Kashmir Valley is less than ½ acre (4 kanals), which was almost an acre just 15 years ago. Paddy cultivation has also declined considerably.

To create huge concrete structures, we need more building materials like bricks, sand, cement, gravel and quarry stones. This impacts our rivers, streams, mountains, karewas and farmlands. Building material rates are also increasing exponentially. A sand truck is sold at Rs 13000 to 16000 on average while the same was only available for Rs 6000 to 8000 2 to 3 years ago.

Most of the streams and rivers contain a lot of sand and other riverbed material because a large amount of RBM is excavated for the construction of highways and roads, which again destroys these natural resources. Can we afford to continue building huge concrete structures with traditional building materials like sand, bricks, cement, gravel,clay in Kashmir? No, not a chance. Now we have to look for alternative building materials. Our government should create a separate cell for this purpose, especially within the Public Works Department (PWD). Such cells should be set up in municipalities and other local bodies.

ABMs are increasingly being used to replace conventional and traditional building materials like clay bricks, sand, etc. In parts of Africa, earth-based materials are modified with plant residues or animal dung to improve the durability and architectural aesthetics of houses. Depending on the locally available resources and the level of affordability of residents, industrialized ATMs such as cement and lime are also being put into use in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Alternative for sand

Concrete is an important material used in the construction industry. It is made of cement and sand. Sand comes mainly from rivers and streams and happens to be the main material used in making concrete. River sand was in abundance in the Kashmir valley only a decade ago and it was also available at cheap rates. As more and more concrete structures began to go up, its demand increased, which led to illegal sand extraction or mining of the river bed. It has now turned into mafia as government agencies work hand in hand with this mafia. A handful of honest officers from the departments of geology and Ming, police, flood control, or fisheries who want to stem this threat feel suffocated and helpless. This author has been forced to seek the intervention of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as illegal river bed mining (RBM) continues in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga. River sand mining affects the ecology of the river and surrounding farmland. Other disadvantages of using river sand are given as follows:

  • Global shortage of natural sand

  • Growing demands for fine aggregates in construction

  • Remotely Located Sandboxes

  • Presence of silt and clay in river sand

The unavailability of river sand and its exorbitant cost led to finding a new replacement for sand in concrete. Thus, the discovery of sand substitutes has been of great importance in the field of construction.

Due to depletion of good quality river sand, manufactured sand commonly known as M-Sand would be the alternative to conventional sand obtained from rivers, streams etc. M sand is made in industries/quarries by crushing rocks, quarry stones or large pieces of aggregate into sand-sized particles. For various construction works, different suitable grades of sand M are used. The main advantage of M sand is that it is cheaper than river sand. In many cities in India, the price of M sand is 50% lower than that of river sand. M-sand is considered the best building material discovered in recent times.

For many years, cement has been used with shredded plastic waste to make paving stones. This not only reduces the cost of pavers compared to that of conventional concrete pavers. Nearly 60 lakhs of tons of plastic waste are produced every year in India. By using shredded plastic waste, sawdust obtained from construction and demolition waste (C&D waste), we can not only effectively use waste plastic, but it will also reduce the pressure of landfills. Under the 2016 C&D rules, the government must provide facilities such as land to contractors who want to set up C&D waste management units. Additionally, 10-20% of building materials used in public works are C&D waste and this is part of the C&D rules 2016


As stated above, we like big houses that require a lot of building materials. So, getting river sand, rubble or gravel will be a difficult task very soon in the future. It is truly unfortunate that the people of Kashmir have embarked on unnecessary constructions like creating huge commercial complexes around the residential areas. From my personal experience, I see most of these stores sit unused and locked since they were built. We must stop these unnecessary constructions which drain our economy and cause the destruction of the environment. Public and private construction actors must innovate and opt for alternative construction materials such as M-sand or plastic-reinforced cement concrete pavers made from construction and demolition waste (C&D waste). This is the only way to stop illegal mining and protect our rivers from further destruction. It will also help to protect our mountains, karewas as well as many building materials such as clay, rubble, silt and sand that are extracted from them.

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen member and President of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]