What is the ethical impact of mining Indian Sandstone?

//What is the ethical impact of mining Indian Sandstone?

A review of the literature on the environmental and human cost of mining Indian sandstone and the transportation of the stone to the United Kingdom.


Compiled by the Director of Glorious Gardens Sussex and University of Sussex students for the Student Consultancy Programme.


This review examines:


  • How much Indian Sandstone is Imported into the UK?


  • What is the environmental impact of the mining problem in India?


  • What is the human impact of the mining and refining process?


  • How can the product be made sustainable?




 The research presented in this review finds that Indian sandstone, whilst often viewed as a sustainable alternative to many other types of garden stone, is responsible for a significant amount of environmental damage in India. The Quarrying sites have been responsible for destruction of local agricultural land and nearby ecosystems, while further environmental damage has been caused by the processing of the stone which requires vast amounts of water and diesel fuel to complete.

  • Additionally, this review highlights the human effects of mining and processing Indian sandstone. The mining and processing operations within India are largely unregulated, rendering workers susceptible to exploitation by mine owners. The absence of regulation also means that the free silica levels, a fine dust generated during the mining and cutting process, are left unregulated within the mines. This exposes workers to hazardous levels, leading to the development of silicosis and other serious health issues.
  • Alongside health impacts this review will also highlight: the prevalence of child labour within the industry, the prevalence of addiction amongst mine works and exploitation by the mine owners.


Exportation of Indian Sandstone:

Importation of Indian Sandstone to the UK:

Natural stone is a significant export of India, with the UK being the 3rd largest importer (246.31 USD million) with sandstone making up to 23% of this (57.43 USD million).


Exportation of Indian Sandstone worldwide:

There was a total of 1419 Million USD of natural stone products exported from India in 2021-2022 and 1360 Million USD in 2022-2023. Sandstone makes up around 20% of this export with a total of 283.8 Million USD in 2021-2022 and 272 Million USD in 2022-2023. The highest exporters of Indian natural stone worldwide is China with 511 Million USD of the exports in 2021-2022. Second is the USA with 404 Million USD and third is the UK with 246 Million USD (1).


The environmental impact of mining sandstone in India:

The lack of Environmental Impact Assessments in the Indian sandstone mining industry:

After searching for literature on the environmental impact of sandstone mining in India only one piece of literature was found that assessed the impact of sandstone mining in India (2), there appears to be a significant lack of research into the subject. Considering that mining regulations recommend consistent environmental impact assessment (3), the lack of assessments suggests environmental malpractice and mining companies potentially trying to cover up the environmental deterioration that they may be causing.


Environmental impact of mining Indian Sandstone:

Mining sandstone in India can have significant environmental impacts, including habitat destruction, land degradation, water and air pollution, noise pollution, resource depletion, and social disruptions. These impacts can harm ecosystems, water quality, air quality, and local communities. These matters will only worsen with the increasing impacts of climate change by increasing water stress, erosion, landslides, biodiversity loss, and regulatory pressure. Changes in precipitation patterns and temperatures can affect water availability and energy sources for mining operations. (4)


Environmental impact of quarrying on surrounding areas:

Sandstone mining produces large amounts of dust and the deposition of this dust onto crops and soil due to wind and water run off leads to degradation of soil quality. This dust is blown from quarrying areas onto local agricultural lands leading to the destruction of soil quality and a subsequent reduction in crop yield. The diminishment of local vegetation due to this dust adversely affects the food supply for domestic livestock, consequently leading to a decline in milk yield from cows within the region. (5) Given that up to 80% of local villages rely on this agricultural land, the impacts of quarrying not only exacerbate food insecurity but also pose a significant threat to the stability of the local economy. (4)


Quarrying operations release dust that negatively impacts local air quality, posing risks to both human health and the environment. Dust generated on-site and on roads affects animals, vegetation, and agriculture, although more research is needed to fully understand the extent of these effects. Animals have been observed inhaling dust containing hazardous substances like silica, while plants and trees can suffer from oxygen deprivation, leading to a condition known as asphyxia. Dry regions, such as Rajasthan, are particularly susceptible to dust-related problems. Although water sprays and wet processing can help control dust emissions, these measures are rarely employed in quarrying compared to processing activities. Quarrying operations primarily focus on preventing dust inhalation and associated health issues, rather than mitigating environmental impacts.(6)


Reclamation and rehabilitation of land after closure:

In Indian mining operations, there is a lack of emphasis on the reclamation and rehabilitation of land after closure. However, mining laws in India require holders of prospecting licences or mining leases to undertake phased restoration, reclamation, and rehabilitation of affected lands before concluding mining operations. Failure to rehabilitate abandoned quarries leads to a detrimental “moon” landscape that adversely affects the surrounding environment, including water drainage and landscape pollution. (6) There is a lack of literature on what proportion of land used for mining is rehabilitated, indicating this issue is not being supervised.


Environmental impact of processing the stone:

Unsustainable mining processes are regularly employed at quarrying sites. Open-cast mining (performed to excavate sandstone from various depths) and rapid pneumatic or electric drilling to cut the stone are regularly used on quarrying sites to mine and cut the stone for transportation. The Sandstone is cut by cutting units, which are powered by electrical generators when electricity is not available at the site (a common occurrence). These generators require huge volumes of diesel as fuel (6.8L/hour), which emit various air pollutants, contributing to the global issue of climate change. (5)


Environmental Impact of Sandstone mining on local water sources:

These cutting units also place a heavy burden upon water sources. The cutting process requires a vast amount of water, which for most of the year is collected in the quarries during monsoon. However, for the rest of the year, the quarries are dependent on groundwater or municipality. The huge demand for water for this process greatly increases the pressure upon surface or groundwater sources, which are already scarce in regions with very high temperatures where the quarries are often located. (5)


Further stress is imposed on local water bodies and groundwater due to leaching from overburden dumps, discharge  of pumped out mine water and other  activities in the vicinity of the water bodies. During rainy seasons the runoff water from the areas surrounding the mines may carry with it a large dose of suspended solids into the nearby water bodies. Water quality analysis was carried out in surrounding water bodies by Borana, S. L., et al. This study remains the only study that has been carried out to investigate the environmental impact of sandstone mining in India. (2)Table 1-  Water quality data of lake in the Jodhpur City, Rajasthan, India (2)


Table 1 signifies the damage that the mining has on the surrounding water pollution from the Borana study. The aforementioned runoff from the quarries has a significant impact on the water quality, bringing the water quality of nearby lakes above safe pollution levels (2). For example, two nearby water bodies, Lal Sagar and Takhat Sagar, have TDS (total dissolved solid) levels that are considerably above the acceptable limits. Similarly high levels of pollution have been found for the residual chloride in Takhat Sagar and Kaylana Lake. Both of these parameters have links to mining activities and have significant impacts on biodiversity in water bodies and causes eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs where nutrients accumulate in high quantities in a body of water. This results in an increased growth of microorganisms, such as algae, that may deplete the water of oxygen, increase toxicity of the water, and release large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane.


Waste produced from mining Sandstone:

Cutting units, which shape up to 12-16 tons of sandstone daily for processing, produce a large amount of waste during the cutting process. Up to 30-50% of the excavated sandstone goes to waste in a ‘slurry’. This waste produced by the cutting process is dumped on nearby open land without any treatment. This slurry, when exposed to the high temperatures of Indian quarrying sites, quickly becomes airborne and spreads to surrounding areas. Water from this slurry can also contaminate the ground and, during rainfall, can leach into water sources used for drinking and other domestic purposes. Due to local wind, this slurry, when dried out, becomes dangerous sandstorms that are a nuisance to local villages, with slurry particles being deposited over houses and local agricultural fields, negatively impacting the health of village residents. (4)


Environmental impact of transporting the Sandstone:


From the quarrying site:

There are many heavy vehicles within quarrying areas to transport the Sandstone. The movement of these heavy vehicles greatly contributes to the dangerous ‘dust’ spread by quarrying sites. Moreover, these vehicles require a large amount of fuel to run, which in turn emits a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to the ongoing issue of climate change. (4)


To the UK:

Although this report was unable to find out the exact amount of Indian Sandstone shipped from India to the UK, it is estimated that the environmental cost of transporting this stone is excessive. For Sandstone to leave the quarries of India and arrive at the UK it requires a heavy mileage. It is roughly 4472 miles/ 3886 nautical miles from Mumbai (where the country’s largest port is located) to the UK. (7) On average a cargo ship produces 16.14 grams of CO2 per kilometre for each metric ton of cargo they carry. (8) With the UK importing 57.43 USD million (45.30 GBP million) of Indian natural sandstone, and requiring a lot of space onboard these cargo ships they are a significant contributor to a large amount of CO2 emissions released during the transportation of this stone. As mentioned, CO2 when produced contributes to the ongoing issue of climate change. CO2 traps heat within the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming by increasing global temperatures. This rise in temperatures can affect sea levels, destroy valuable ecosystems, negatively impact agriculture and even human health.


Human impact of the mining and refining process:


How many Indian Sandstone miners are there:

Three million workers are employed in India’s sandstone mining industry on a seasonal basis, with nearly 90% of India’s sandstone produced in the state of Rajasthan. Although the Government of Rajasthan has issued thousands of mining licences and leases, there is a thriving unregulated and unlicensed market.(9)


Impact of Sandstone mining on the health of workers:


Sandstone contains around 90% Silica. Free silica is produced during the cutting quarrying and cutting process of sandstone and continued exposure of a long period results in interstitial pulmonary fibrosis known as silicosis (10). A study conducted across 79 sandstone quarries found that the prevalence of silicosis amongst sandstone workers rose to 22% amongst workers who have been working with sandstone for over 10 years, those under 10 years the prevalence sat at around 3%.(10). Moreover, individuals exposed to free silica are 39 times more likely to develop pulmonary tuberculosis (11). The average lifespan of sandstone miners in India is 52 years which is 10-12 years less than mine workers not involved in sandstone quarrying or cutting (11).


The lack of regulation in the mining industry has led to a concerning absence of dust control measures, leaving miners vulnerable to developing silicosis. Compounding this issue, there is a glaring failure to provide essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the workers (12). Moreover, the absence of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) frequently results in workers inadvertently carrying silica dust home on their clothing, thus exposing their families, including vulnerable children, to the dangers of silica inhalation. Murlidhar (13) documents the alarming case of an 11-year-old boy who developed silicosis as a direct result of secondary exposure to silica. This incident occurred because the boy lived in close proximity to the mines and had family members working directly in them.


  • Miners may also face the risk of musculoskeletal disorder, accidents , malaria, low vision, skin disease and hearing losses.


Exploitative conditions within the mines: 


Dangerous conditions:

Due to the unregulated nature of the mining industry in India, labour and welfare laws are not enforced. An attempt was made to record work related incidents at the Rajasthan mine from Jan-June 1994. 215 incidents were recorded. Of these 214 incidents, 130 resulted in miners (men, women, and children) losing their lives. Not a single individual was compensated by the mine owners or state (14).



A tactic employed by mine owners to exploit their workers is the use of indebtedness. Frequently, mine owners extend loans to their workers, creating a cycle of dependency that binds workers to the mines as they struggle to repay these debts. Shockingly, it is estimated that a staggering 65% of miners are working in the mines primarily to settle their loan obligations. These loans are then often passed down through generations, perpetuating a cycle that traps children into mining labour from an early age.(15).



Facing intolerable working conditions, inadequate pay, and serious health concerns, many mineworkers turn to various substances to alleviate their hardships. As noted by Wazir (15), opium, country liquor, tobacco, and zarda are commonly used, with opium being particularly prevalent among women. The expenses incurred in obtaining these substances further exacerbate the cycle of indebtedness. Consequently, it is common for the liquor stores nearest to the mines to be run by the mine owners. However, as younger generations begin working in the mines, alcoholism is becoming less common as many young miners turn to prescription painkillers.


No other choice:

However, despite the exploitative and dangerous conditions within the mines many have no choice but to continue working in these conditions. Predominantly comprising of migrants, these mine workers relocate with their families in pursuit of employment opportunities, driven by the dwindling prospects in agriculture and other sectors within their native villages (15)

  • Workers are mostly uneducated and often trapped by debt – Because of the early start of mining activities, miner’s children are unable to receive proper


Child labour within Sandstone manufacturing:

Children are introduced to the mines at a very young age as there are no childcare facilities available. Women working in the mines are forced to bring their children to work. Children therefore, are socialised into the working culture from a very early age and begin working the mines as young as 10 years old. Women and children tend to take on much of the unskilled labour, such as clearing rubble and therefore they are on much lower wages. (15)

  • 38% of the children surveyed in Rajasthan’s Kota and Bundi districts work in sandstone quarries.
  • Child workers earn as little as £1 per day and are exposed to dangerous conditions including dust, fumes and gas at work.
  • In the sandstone mining sector of Maharashtra there are 4-5 million workers alone of which 800,000-10,00,000 are likely to be children (14).
  • In the sandstone mining sector Bundi in the district of Rajasthan, of 100,000 quarry workers in roughly 15,000- 20,000 are children (14)
  • In the sandstone mining sector of Uttar Pradesh, children from the Kol community, who were traditionally a forest dwelling community, are now forced to work in exploitative conditions within sandstone mines that have replaced the very forests they once called home (16). Their children are forced to work from as young as eight, breaking stones and carrying head loads to trucks and tractors. These children are paid around 10 Rupee’s a day which equates to less than a pound in GBP. (14).


What measures are companies taking to mitigate ethical risks?

Marshalls, one of the prominent stone companies in the UK, has taken steps to address the ethical impact associated with Indian sandstone. Recognizing the harsh conditions prevalent in the stone quarries of Rajasthan, Marshalls has prioritised responsible sourcing practices. In 2005, they initiated a partnership with StoneShippers India, a stone processing company that sources its stone from a managed number of legal quarries. This exclusive partnership ensures transparency in the supply chain, allowing Marshalls to have a clear understanding of the origin of their sandstone.(17)


To ensure ethical standards are upheld, Marshalls conducts regular visits to the quarries and production facilities associated with StoneShippers India. Independent audits are commissioned to assess compliance with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code. These audits verify the use of proper protective equipment, reasonable working hours, fair wages, and the absence of child labour. The ETI Base Code, however, focuses primarily on the human rights of the workers, with little emphasis on environmental damage.(18)


We find it important to note additionally that StoneShippers India does not display any ethical guidelines on their own website. (19)



This report highlights the alarming lack of concrete evidence supporting the sustainability of Indian sandstone. The available sources, of which many seem to be backed by companies with a financial interest in the industry, raise concerns about their reliability and objectivity. Furthermore, the lack of up-to-date studies and empirical evidence indicates a glaring gap in regulation and oversight. This absence of effective monitoring allows for the potential disregard of labour laws and unregulated environmental consequences resulting from Indian sandstone extraction and production.







By |2024-03-29T14:54:24+00:00March 29th, 2024|Uncategorised|Comments Off on What is the ethical impact of mining Indian Sandstone?

About the Author:

In 2006 I formed Glorious Gardens, gathering together skilled practitioners to offer not just design but implementation of these designs and maintenance packages where we could look after the gardens once we had created them. Throughout my career I have designed gardens to inspire people with the heart aching beauty of nature, with shapes, colours, moods and proportions to pleasure the body and calm and delight the mind. I am also an artist who works with colour and abstract shapes and I bring this sensitivity to the 4 dimensions of a garden. I am very good at listening to clients and I’m able to draw out the essence of what a client wants for their outdoor space.