KUALA LUMPUR/NEW DELHI • India has just imported its first shipment of sand from Malaysia, totalling 55,000 tonnes, at half the price that it commands in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
But a Malaysian Cabinet minister was quoted as saying that he suspected "hanky-panky" in the contract as his government has not issued any export licences for sand.
Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Free Malaysia Today news site on Sunday: "As far as I know, on record, we have never issued any (approved permits) to anyone to sell sand to India. There seems to be some hanky-panky by someone here."
The Times of India reported on Sunday that the arrival of the sand at a port in Tuticorin raised hopes among project developers that they could overcome the shortage of river sand for construction.
Previous reports in the Indian media said Tamil Nadu was also looking to source for sand from Cambodia and Kenya.
The sand was brought in from Malaysia by a private firm, according to industry sources quoted by The Times of India, at a price of 60 rupees (S$1.26) per cubic ft - about half the 110 to 120 rupees asking price for river sand from Tamil Nadu quarries.
Faced with sand shortage for construction, neighbouring Karnataka state has also been importing sand, the report said, though it did not identify where the commodity has been coming from.
Last month, the southern state of Kerala gave the green light to ferry sand from Malaysia, The Hindu newspaper reported.
In Tamil Nadu, the 55,000 tonnes imported could last a week, said The Times of India.
Responding to a Malaysian media report last month about Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi saying that Malaysia had not issued any export permits, Karnataka Law Minister T.B. Jayachandra was quoted by the Bangalore Mirror as saying that the Malaysian bidder "had participated in the bidding process because he has the legal permission to export sand".
The issue of sand exports is a sensitive one in Malaysia over concerns that sand dredging on land or offshore causes great environmental damage.
Malaysia banned sand exports between 1997 and 2015.
The ban was lifted last year, but the government has not issued any export licences, Mr Wan Junaidi told Free Malaysia Today.
He said he would look into the matter to see if any company had breached the terms of its sand-mining permit. "If it did, I will discuss with the Prime Minister to revoke its licence," he said.
The Malaysian Insight news site said on Sunday: "Even as the source of India's imported sand remains a mystery to Malaysians, it is clear that it is not stopping other sand-starved Indian states from placing their orders, with Kerala reported to be at the head of the queue for sand from Malaysia."