India's sand miners risk all for country's building boom

SHOWS: VASAI CREEK, MUMBAI, INDIA (RECENT)

(THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION - MUST ON SCREEN COURTESY)

1. SAND MINING BOATS AND SAND MINERS

2. SAND MINER IN WATER BEING THROWN A BUCKET

3. MEN WATCHING FROM BOAT

4. SAND MINER TAKING BREATH BEFORE DIVING UNDER WATER

5. SAND MINER RESURFACING

6. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) SANDEEP KHAKHA, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"I don't think anything. I just think that I should get good sand and enough sand so that I can fill up the boat quickly. If the sand above falls over you, you are gone."

7. CLOSE OF MEN PULLING ROPES TO GET BUCKETS OF SAND OUT OF WATER

8. MEN PULLING BUCKETS OF SAND OUT OF WATER

9. CLOSE OF BUCKET COMING OUT OF WATER

10. BUCKET OF SAND BEING UNLOADED ONTO BOAT

11. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) SANDEEP KHAKHA, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"I work at the sand port. I dive into the sea and get 250 to 300 buckets of sand (a day). Then I come up and I take a little rest."

12. TATTOO ON KHAKA'S ARM

13. KHAKA'S HANDS AS HE SPEAKS

14. KHAKA POINTING TO SCARS ON HIS FEET AND ANKLES

15. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) SANDEEP KHAKHA, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"It is all dark inside the water. I have to judge where the sand is with my leg. I then get a grip in the sand with my feet and press the bucket into the sand to fill it. And then I pull the bucket out. I wait five seconds and go back.

16. SAND MINING BOATS ON THE WATER

17. MAN EMPTYING BUCKET OF SAND ONTO BOAT

18. MAN RAKING SAND

19. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) RADHESYAM SAHNI, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"I am from Uttar Pradesh but I have come here to work. I work here for three to four months and then go back home to my children."

20. MEN ON BOATS WORKING

21. CLOSE OF BUCKET BEING PULLED OUT OF WATER

22. SAND MINER IN WATER DIVING BELOW TO GET SAND

23. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) RADHESYAM SAHNI, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"I will not let them do this work. It is very dangerous work."

24. VARIOUS OF MUMBAI BUILDINGS AND BOATS ON THE WATER

25. (SOUNDBITE) (Marathi) LAKSHMAN DABU BHORE, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"While I worked there my head started hurting. Blood started coming out of my ear and nose. My chest started hurting. After coming out from the water within 15 to 20 minutes of sitting on the boat in the sun my head would spin."

26. MAN CLIMBING OUT OF WATER

27. MAN DIGGING PILE OF SAND

28. MEN WITH LARGE CONTAINERS OF SAND ON THEIR HEADS

29. MAN CARRYING CONTAINER OF SAND FROM BOAT

30. MEN CARRYING CONTAINERS OF SAND ON THEIR HEADS AND THROWING ONTO PILE

31. (SOUNDBITE) (Marathi) CHANDRAKANT SHANKAR MEGWALI, FATHER OF DECEASED SAND MINER, SAYING (HOLDING PHOTO OF HIS SON):

"He is my son. He died while working. We don't know whether the bucket hit him or what happened."

32. (SOUNDBITE) (Marathi) CHANDRAKANT SHANKAR MEGWALI, FATHER OF DECEASED SAND MINER, SAYING:

"It was the day after my son died that his body floated up in the water."

33. BOAT AT WATER'S EDGE

34. VARIOUS OF SAND MINERS DUMPING SAND IN A BIG PILE

35. (SOUNDBITE) (Hindi) SANDEEP KHAKHA, SAND MINER, SAYING:

"Last year I saw two divers die, their bodies were found on the third day

36. SAND MINING BOATS AND MINERS ON THE WATER

STORY: Rickety boats bob about on a murky creek just outside of Mumbai, from where men risk their lives to illegally dive for sand.

They work in the black waters of Vasai Creek where untreated chemicals and industrial waste float, and at times the corpses of fellow workers.

Indian authorities and mining officials deny the existence of the dangers of an illegal sand mining industry, but a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation found miners are dying to meet rising demand from a booming construction sector.

Sandeep Khakha fetches between 250 and 300 buckets of sand a day, which are unloaded onto a boat.

"It is all dark inside the water. I have to judge where the sand is with my leg. I then get a grip in the sand with my feet and press the bucket into the sand to fill it. And then I pull the bucket out. I wait five seconds and go back," he said.

There are no official records of how many men lose their lives, but the miners themselves speak of death as commonplace.

Khakha said he knows of two divers who were killed last year.

Radhesyam Sahni, who travels from Uttar Pradesh to carry out this dangerous work said he had seen at least five deaths.

Others describe the pain they are in after a day's diving.

"My head started hurting. Blood started coming out of my ear and nose. My chest started hurting. After coming out from the water within 15 to 20 minutes of sitting on the boat in the sun my head would spin," said Lakshman Dabu Bhore.

The hundreds of boats in the creek mean the divers only learn of a death when the body of a drowned diver floats to the surface a day or two after disappearing.

Although there is no official data, studies estimate illegal extraction of sand in India generates about 150 million US dollars a year.

The manually mined sand by cheap labourers is a much smaller business than the sand mined legally by suction pumps.

But the high demand for sand, a key building material, in a nation of 1.3 billion people with fast growing cities and a construction boom makes it a lucrative business. Divers are willing to take the risk as they make about 1,000 Indian rupees (15USD) for a boat-full of sand and gravel. It's a wage that is much higher than the average daily wage of about 270 rupees.