The delayed rollout of a new sand-mining policy by the YSRCP government has led to nearly 30 lakh workers in the construction industry losing out on employment over the last 4-5 months with an acute shortage of sand stalling most building activity.
The crisis was brought into sharp focus Monday when a video surfaced of a plumber, moments before he committed suicide. Police said the video was shot by Polepalli Venkatesh, who used to work at building sites and hanged himself at his home in Guntur’s Gorantla village on October 2.
In the video, which was found on Venkatesh’s phone Sunday by his wife who submitted it to police, he said he was unable to find work for the last 3-4 months and was in severe financial difficulty. “I am totally ashamed of myself because I am unable to take care of my family due to financial problems…. for several months, there is no work, there is no income. My financial condition is very precarious,’’ he said in the video.
This is the third suicide this month in the YSRCP-ruled state that the victims’ families are blaming on loss of livelihood due to sand shortage.
On October 25, C Nagabrahmaji, a 34-year-old 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 Guntur town citing financial difficulty due to lack of work.
Immediately after coming to power in May 2019, Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy cancelled the sand policy of the previous TDP government while accusing it of aiding the sand mafia. However, his government did not announce a new policy till September 5, leading to a huge gap in demand and supply.
By the time the policy was announced, floods in the Godavari and Krishna rivers, which have the biggest sand reaches, aggravated the situation. As part of its new policy, the government has rolled out a number of measures but they have not had any significant impact on the industry so far.
Opposition parties, TDP, BJP and Jana Sena Party, have called for the Centre to intervene and the state government to compensate those who have no jobs.
On Sunday, Jana Sena Party chief K Pawan Kalyan appealed to the Centre to look into the issue. Referring to the suicides, Kalyan said: “Due to the chaotic sand policy of the state government, 19.6 lakh workers directly and another one million workers indirectly are out of jobs and their families are in a state of misery.’’
Jana Sena has also called for a ‘Chalo Visakhapatnam’ march on November 3 in which its leaders will hold a protest demanding that the government make arrangements on a war-footing to procure sand and make it available at affordable rates.
The TDP has appealed to the government to pay Rs 10,000 per month to construction workers until they are able to find work. “The condition of the constructions workers and their families is dismal. More suicides may happen as they are ending up in debt,’’ TDP’s state president Kimdi Venkat Rao said.
On Monday, BJP’s state chief Kanna Lakshminarayana slammed the government for not doing enough to resolve the crisis. “The entire industry has collapsed. Many of them have sold their two-wheelers or mortgaged family jewellery, some are committing thefts. The government has to do something, otherwise there will more suicides,’’ he said.
The state government, meanwhile, has procured and stocked sand at godowns in district headquarters and mandals but is unable to meet the demand.
Going by its new policy, the government has opened 114 stockyards and is selling sand through the Sand Sale Management and Monitoring System, said P Ramachandra Reddy, Minister for Mines, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development.
Under the system, consumers have to register online to place their orders and produce the receipts at the nearest stockyard within three days. They also need to use their own vehicles to transport the sand.
According to officials, the government has sold 4,84,553 metric tonnes of sand since the new policy was announced.
However, at least one of the government’s measures appear to have backfired. In a bid to increase stocks, it tried to take over sand stocked by construction major L&T in Amaravati. The company had purchased and stocked over 80,000 tonnes sand for use at an AIIMS construction site as well as other projects it is executing in the region. The company approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court, which barred the government from lifting the stocks for four weeks.