Environmental Concerns of Coal Mining in India

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The government’s decision to open up 10 coal mines for commercial auction is expected to reduce the demand-supply gap and also ensure quality.

What is the present status of coal mining in India?

  • As on March 2016, India had 308.80 billion metric tons of coal reserves
  • The Coal resources of India are available in older Gondwana Formations of peninsular India and younger Tertiary formations of north-eastern region.
  • The production of coal was 639.23 million metric tons in 2015-16
  • India is third largest coal producer and also the third largest coal importer of the world.
  • Odhisa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are the major coal producing states in India
  • India’s coal imports were 199.88 million metric tons in 2015-16
  • The key players in Indian coal sector are: Coal India Limited (CIL) and Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd. These two have the overwhelming control over commercial mining
  • CIL’s monopoly over commercial mining is a major reason for India not being able tap the full potential of its coal reserves. CIL’s dominance has also led to quality issues.
  • The government of India has planned to open up mines for commercial auctions.

The mines to be opened up for auction are:

  • Chendipada, Chendipada-II, Mahanadi and Machhakata in Orissa
  • Shankarpur Bhatgaon II Extension, Durgapur II/Taraimar, Durgapur II/Sariya, Madanpur (North) in Chattisgarh
  • Dongri Tal II in Madhya Pradesh
  • Mednirai in Jharkhand
  • This step is expected to improve the supply of coal and also its quality.
  • At present, the coal sector is facing major challenges associated with low productivity, governance, corruption, and environmental concerns

What are the different methods of coal mining in India?

  • Two methods: open cast and underground
  • The choice of method is largely determined by the depth, geology of coal deposit and other factors
  • Open cast mining is used to extract coal from shallow depts.
  • It’s a more efficient process than underground mining, the latter needing high technical expertise and greater investments.
  • In India, most of the coal production comes from open-cast mines
  • As on 2015, the share of underground coal mining in India is lowest- only 8.8% of the total mining.
  • In India, Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) has the highest share of underground mining production among public sector coal mining companies.
  • Open cast mining is more environmentally harmful compared to underground mining.

What are the environmental issues associated with Coal Mining?

Air Pollution:

  • The major sources of air pollution are blasting and drilling operations, coal fires, vehicular traffic, heavy trucks plying on haul roads, loading and unloading of coal, wind erosion from overburden dumps.
  • The major pollutants include oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, suspended particulate matter, respirable particulate matter, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and benzene soluble matter.
  • Coal fires are also a major issue

Water Pollution:

  • Major sources of water pollution are drainage from mining sites, sediment runoff from mining site, erosion from overburden dumps and spoils heaps, leaking from tailing pond heated and heavy metals loaded effluents from coal industries and sewage effluents

Soil pollution:

  • The soil gets polluted by strip mining as it involves removal of top soil, wind erosion from overburden dumps, coal heaps, tailing ponds, dust generated due to heavy machinery used for extracting coal, burning of coal, loading and unloading of coal.

Change in Vegetation cover and pattern

  • Loss of vegetation
  • Opencast mining and underground mining affect the vegetation pattern.
  • Vegetation pattern gets changed and it is generally observed that there is an increase in area covered by sparse vegetation and barren land.

Noise pollution

  • Cumulative effect of different mining activities like blasting, drilling, crushing and movement of vehicles cause noise pollution.

Changes in Topography:

  • Changes in topography can occur due to clearing of land for opencast mining, erecting infrastructure related to underground mining, dumping of solid wastes in nearby areas, subsidence due to fires.
  • Subsidence may lead to loss of infrastructure and may also lead to a change in the natural drainage pattern of the area.

Solid Waste:

  • Open-cast mining strips away topsoil, or “overburden”, to expose the seams underneath.
  • It is the waste or spoil -organic material and soil that overlie a mineral deposit.

Occupational Hazard:

  • Several occupational hazards are associated with coal mining: Pneumoconiosis (by inhaling coal dust), allergies and asthma, noise hazard etc.

What are the main environmental legislations governing coal mining in India?

  1. Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 –
  • Consent is required under this act for any mining activity in a forest area.
  1. Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act 1981 and Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act 1974
  • Consent from the relevant state Pollution Control Board is required before establishing or operating any industry or process likely to pollute the environment.
  1. Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 1989-
  • Consent from relevant State Pollution Control Board is required in respect of “hazardous waste”
  1. Environment Protection Act 1986 and Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006.
  • Environmental Clearance required

What measures should be adopted to mitigate the environmental problems associated with coal mining?

  1. Ensuring minimum waste in extraction
  2. Proper and judicious recycling of wastes
  3. Adoption of environmental friendly technologies- The advantages are manifold. For example: Use of closed and advanced blasting technology like shock tube technology would mitigate noise pollution.
  4. Efficient use of energy
  5. Afforestation- Green belt should be created around the mining area.
  6. Proper top soil management to ensure least soil and land degradation
  7. To reduce water pollution, mine seepage water after treatment, should be used for different purposes
  8. Subsidence management: Preparation of subsidence monitoring programme that covers the impact of subsidence on surface and groundwater
  9. Overburden dump should be properly managed. It should be stabilized with biological reclamation
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