Sand Reserves: Eliminating Conflicts, Protecting Ecology & Ushering Development with Effective Monitoring

406d631630d7a30352438b3e8ac6fa19_sliderSand trading is a lucrative business, and the cloud of influential mafias in India is such that any discussion about sand mining is considered taboo. This state of affairs continues due to the lack of monitoring systems to assess the environmental impact and also to ensure regulatory policies are adhered. After water, the highest volume of raw material used on earth is sand. The rate of sand extraction is so high that it exceeds the natural renewal rate of sand. The absence of data on sand mining makes environmental assessment very difficult and has contributed to the lack of awareness about this issue. There is so much demand for river and coastal sand that topographies have changed drastically in the last few years: sand islands have disappeared in Indonesia, beaches have been stripped bare in western Africa, and whole stretches of riverbeds have disappeared in parts of Asia and South America. Demand for sand continues to rise with increased prosperity, and illegal mining and quarrying ensure a steady supply of sand. It has given rise to a network of crime, environmental degradation, and revenue losses to governments.

The coming years will witness more sand wars than water disputes. Maritime dredging, mining and riverbed quarrying have attracted multinational companies, who overtly tie up with local politicos for access to prime reserves. Companies dredge up massive portions indiscriminately and leave the dirty work to locals, who transport sand with the mafia providing cover. Much of the modern sheikhdom of Dubai was built with sand imported from Australia; Singapore is another nation that has considerably increased its size (by more than 20%) over the years with rampant land reclamation. Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia have banned or limited sand exports to Singapore owing to ecological and economic impact of indiscriminate mining. As the price of sand increases, so does its trafficking by local mafias. This kind of indiscriminate mining has wreaked havoc, causing lasting damages to the environment and there is a desperate need for a sand ecosystem solution that propounds a scientific approach to sand mining.

The situation was no different in the state of Karnataka when t4u, a Bengaluru-based Internet of Things (IoT) enabled solution provider, sought to bring in district level administration of sand ecosystem. The organization’s solution envisages partnership with the government bodies for sustainable mining for operational excellence, transparency, accountability and efficiency. Although the government had enacted the necessary laws to curb illegal sand mining, their implementation was an up-hill task for the following reasons:

(a) manual system to issue and validate permits

(b) no control on the amount of sand being extracted

(c) illegal inter-state transportation.

The Sand Mining Administration Regulation Transport (SMART) system, addressed the above issues by bringing in transparency in issuing permits, checking the movement of vehicles, and monitoring the sand reserves at each source.

IoT Solutions for Sustainable Mining

The SMART system leverages the power of Internet of Things (IoT) and the capabilities of intelligent platforms. The result is a robust IoT-enabled ‘ecosystem solution’ that connects all levels of stakeholders in the movement of sand from source to destination. The district administration, transporters and consumers derive immense value by being part of this collaborative commerce ecosystem platform:

  • The district administration can prevent exploitation of sand by building a transparent cycle for excavating, stocking, distributing and tracking the movement of sand.
  • Enforcement agencies such as Regional Transport Office, Public Works Department, Police and other state agencies can make use of online tools and mobile apps to address on-the-go checks, redressal, and reporting.
  • Transporters can enjoy hassle-free logistics with IoT devices. This enables greater visibility on the movement of sand and builds trust with all stakeholders, reducing any chances of deviation or pilferage.
  • Consumers can make use of a comprehensive mobile app to gather information on sand sources, rates, transporters and delivery routes.

Sand

t4u’s unique IoT technology solutions have transformed the conventional and manual sand administrative system into a transparent, simple and comprehensive digital experience that connects all stakeholders in the movement of sand from source to consumer destination.

Computing infrastructure for this IoT solution

  • Local partners in each district to execute field operations like IOT device installations in district local trucks and trouble shooting in case of tampering. There are various applications of IOT in a typical Natural Resource (Sand) Ecosystem. First of all an onboard computing equipment which has location sensing feature and a data transmission module is installed on a vehicle for getting the location information of the vehicle. Another technology is the Communication Gateway Engine which would receive these location data, then a smart phone application for transporters and consumers for ease of booking, transportation and carrying out the payment transactions, would make a comprehensive IOT technology implementation.
  • Software platform can load and work in remote area where internet connectivity is very low. The software platform is highly optimized to function at a very low speed internet. The technology is more textual, less of graphics, but highly interactive in nature. As far as the data communication from vehicle to cloud is concerned, we use GPRS communication technologies. LoRA is not a feasible option as yet, however we would be working on further optimization of these networks going forward.
  • Execution partners in every district to provide on-ground support to district administration via MIS reports, etc and alert on any probability of illegal activities or non-compliance. These reports are generated upon request on the fly. As this is an ecosystem and the platform delivers values to various ecosystem stake holders, reports are customized for every stakeholders as per their login credentials. Ofcourse a aggregated monthly/ weekly reports are part of these deliverables. On real time basis, few of the stake holders can see on their smart phones, the status of the Permits and legal / illegal trip management.
  • A cloud based robust IT infrastructure with a IOT middleware which can handle 100s of records of all the trucks which are plying for sand business. As mentioned above, each truck is fitted with onboard computing equipment with location sensing technologies and is continuously monitored on real time. Each truck carries a defined weight of sand load. There are weigh bridges at sand stock yard and they are integrated. Ideally if we can install an IOT weighing sensors it would be good, however they are not feasible (both technically as well as economically) and also not necessary from a business perspective as there are other checks and balances in the trade. The load of the truck carrying a defined quantity of sand is monitored via a MDP Trip sheet.

Challenges faced

  • Collating the structure of how PWD does the operation in each of the districts and building a comprehensive platform which covers all the business cases of all the districts.
  • Finding the right cellular operator which has better GPRS coverage in each districts and accordingly inserting the same in GPS/GPRS devices for the all the trucks.
  • Developing a Platform which can be easily accessible in remote areas where the internet connectivity is slow for issuing daily permits for PWD teams in taluk level stockyards.
  • Happened to do multiple experiments in providing a right GPS / GPRS device which can be  fixed in Canoes [boats which doesn’t have any power facilities] to track the canoes which carries the sand from the river sand bed to banks in coastal region districts.
  • Coverage of GPS is not an issue but the GPRS coverage for realtime data transmission some time is a challenge. This is mitigated by an intelligent storage functionality in the device which ensures store-forward facility, without any data loss.
  • The field condition of the operation (both for trucks and canoes) are highly prone to extreme weather conditions like rain, humidity, salinity, etc., leading to device malfunctioning, corrosion, etc. These are mitigated with proper mountings, IP66/65/67 standard packaging.

The Public-Private Engagement

If smaller nations account for the highest per capita consumption of sand, the larger nations have the distinction of being the highest per capita consumers of cement, the production of which involves large scale usage of sand and aggregates as raw materials. China, India and Brazil account for more than half of the world’s cement production, and these nations are also the highest consumers of cement. It is in these nations that public opposition to sand mining is gaining ground, often evoking a smooth and violent response from vested interests. Citizens, government officials, activists and others have been targeted because they dared to oppose—not the development—but the degradation of environment. Although none can halt or slow down development, things have turned worse because of the lack of accountability and monitoring. These issues of accountability and monitoring can only be redressed with effective public-private partnership. It is towards addressing the needs of an effective partnership model. IoT-enabled Sand Ecosystem Solution engages a cross-sector involvement of local entrepreneurs, contractors, administrators and buyers at all levels with transparency, leaving no room for exploitation or other negative acts. This IoT-enabled technology platform comes at almost no cost to the government, as the required IT infrastructure and manpower is already taken care off by the solution provider itself. Implementing solutions such as the above as developed by t4u shall pave the way forward for putting in place a proper mechanism to check indiscriminate resource exploitation and trafficking.

While it is true that sand trafficking has reached alarming proportions at the local level, it is yet to reach the size that would threaten national economy. However, it is fast evolving into a major issue and has reached the political agenda. It is time the policy makers put in place the necessary checkpoints to ensure accountability at all levels. Only the implementation of a IoT technology enabled monitoring mechanism of sand trading would help address all issues relating to community and environment, and set the framework for effective governance. Until such measures are in place, sand wars will soon eclipse water disputes in the coming days. Sand Reserves: Eliminating Conflicts, Protecting Ecology & Ushering Development with Effective Monitoring.

Author:Pratap Hegde

Pratap leads telematics4U (t4u) as Managing Director & CEO with over 20 years of experience in the IT Industry and has been instrumental in setting up a number of companies in the vast spectrum of ITES and BPO/ KPO.

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