Want to build your dream home in Chennai? Check the sand first

There are many such units at Perambur, Korattur and New Avadi Road. Earthmovers are used at these units to mix poor quality sand sourced from river beds on the outskirts of Chennai and from Andhra Pradesh

river sand

It’s strange that all the neighbourhood hardware shops in Chennai are flooded with river sand, says S Ramaprabhu, chairman of the Builders Association of India’s southern chapter. Until six months ago, it was rare to find river sand. So why the sudden influx?

A TOI investigation revealed that illegal units have mushroomed across the city where poor quality sand is treated and marketed as river sand. Experts say such poor quality sand will affect the longevity and durability of structures built using it. 

The illegal sand yards that were functioning on the fringes of the city have now shifted to Chennai. There are many such units at Perambur, Korattur and New Avadi Road. Earthmovers are used at these units to mix poor quality sand sourced from river beds on the outskirts of Chennai and from Andhra Pradesh, and, more worryingly, from land parcels close to the sea that typically have high salt content.

This is passed off as genuine river sand, which incidentally is mined only in a few government-run quarries. In fact, just 600 trucks of river sand a week is supplied by these quarries to the whole state.

“You will not get real river sand anywhere in the city. A top layer of sand scooped from the river course is available for sale,” a salesman at a sand yard in Perambur told this correspondent, who visited the spot posing as a prospective buyer. At least three yards owned by different individuals are running in the premises selling multi-coloured sand varieties.

“We have smuggled this sand from the river course. Next week, you can expect better quality sand,” the salesman added without giving out the location where the sand was illegally mined. In Korattur, sand was stocked on two vacant plots in TVS Nagar.

Inquiries with hardware shop traders on New Avadi Road revealed that the sand available with them was made by crushing pebbles mined from hillocks. In the suburbs of Padiyanallur in Tiruvallur district, illegal sand mixing units operate, but on a smaller scale.

S Yuvaraj, president of the Tamil Nadu State Sand Lorry Owner’s Federation, alleged that the soil removed when tunnels were excavated during the metro rail construction work was being used for adultering sand. 

“Anything and everything is being passed off as sand because of the acute shortage of river sand. Sand taken from farmland and land near the seashore is mixed with illegally mined sand from river courses of Tiruvallur district,” he said. 

According to him, the Lok Sabha elections have contributed to a rise in this illegal trade. “With government officials busy with the election process, smuggling of sand from Andhra Pradesh and adulteration have become rampant. The public works department (PWD) distributes only 600 loads of river sand per week, then what is the source of such huge volumes of the construction material being sold as river sand across Chennai,” he asked.

A Balasubramani, founder-president of the Association of Builders for Chennai Development, said, “We cannot even give three years guarantee for such construction. Low quality sand can corrode iron rods and affect the plastering work.” While a majority of developers have started using manufactured sand (M Sand), people building independent houses still prefer river sand.

Chennai district collector A Shanmuga Sundaram told TOI that he did not receive any complaints over the operation of such sand mixing units. Tiruvallur district collector Mageswari Ravikumar could not be reached.