Indian Coal Sector Ensuring Environment Carethrough Sustainable Mining

By Bhabani Prasad Pati
Coal and lignite PSUs under the aegis of the Ministry of Coal are not only meeting the fast-escalating energy needs of the nation but also taking several measures for environmental conservation in the coal mining areas. Some notable environmental conservation success stories include the profitable use of surplus mine water for community purposes, maximising green cover while promoting eco-mine tourism in reclaimed mining areas, alternative uses of overburden, energy efficiency measures and many more. Rapid urbanization, industrialization and population growth have put considerable strain on water resources. Hence it is high time to preserve and conserve every drop of water, because each drop matters.
After minimal treatment, huge amounts of groundwater collected in mines during coal extraction process can be used for irrigation and drinking. Coal and lignite PSUs are taking several steps for conservation and efficient use of mine water by supplying it in their command areas for community uses such as drinking and irrigation. Mine water discharged from active mines, as well as water available in abandoned mine voids of coal and lignite PSUs, benefits approximately 18 lakh people living in 900 villages near coal mining areas. In the current financial year, coal and lignite PSUs plan to supply around 4000 LKL of mine water for community use, of which 2788 LKL have been supplied till December 2022, out of which 881 LKL have been used for domestic purposes, including drinking. The remaining 1907 LKL have been used for irrigation purposes. The majority of the beneficiaries of mine water are tribal people who live in remote areas. This endeavour is in line with the Government of India’s “Jal Shakti Abhiyan” of water conservation efforts.
Mine areas, after exhaustion of reserves and proper reclamation of mined-out areas, offer good potential for development of eco-parks, sites for water sports, underground mine tourism, golf courses, adventure activities, bird watching, etc. These eco-parks are providing a source of livelihood for the local populace. In due course of time, coal and lignite PSUs have developed a total of 30 eco-parks in different states, which are attracting steady foot traffic, and plans are afoot for creation of more such eco-tourism and eco-restoration sites. Some eco-parks are already part of the local tourism circuit and coal and lignite PSUs are working with their respective state tourism departments to integrate more eco-parks.
Coal and lignite PSUs have also shown their sensitivity and care towards the native environment by adopting various mitigation measures, including reclamation of mined out areas and extensive plantation in and around coal bearing areas. Responsible environmental stewardship requires that degraded mining land be restored back to its previous, stable, and fruitful land uses. Coal and lignite PSUs have been making sincere attempts to reduce the footprint of coal mining. In accordance with well-designed and approved mine closure plans that contain specific provisions on both progressive and final mine closure activities, reclamation activities are being carried out in coal mines.
Coal India Ltd. (CIL) has planted over 31 lakh saplings during 2022–23, as of December 2022. During the last five fiscal years (till FY ’22) 4392 hectares of greening inside the mine lease area have created a carbon sink potential of 2.2 LT/year. Coal / lignite PSUs have planted approximately 2230 ha of land in the current fiscal year through December 2022, and grassed approximately 360 ha. Coal and lignite PSUs are also implementing novel techniques in their mines, such as seed ball plantations, seed casting via drones and Miyawaki plantations. Mined out areas, overburden dumps and other areas are concurrently reclaimed as soon as they get delinked from the active mining zones. These afforestation activities and green belt development works are also creating carbon sinks. The dense tree coverage also helps to control air pollution, by arresting the suspended dust particles emitted during mining operations.
As an effort towards preserving our riverine ecosystem, coal and lignite PSUs have started segregating sand from overburden extracted during coal mining. This initiative will not only help minimise environmental pollution due to sand siltation but also improve the riverine ecosystem. Coal and lignite PSUs, supply industrial-grade manufactured sand of higher quality at a lower cost than river sand. Western Coalfields Ltd. currently operates two overburden-to-sand plants and generated 22287.97 m3 of sand by reprocessing 55719.92 m3 of overburden. In the coal sector, as of now, six overburden-to-sand processing plants are operational, with many more on the way.
Efficient use of energy resources and their conservation assume tremendous significance, as one unit of energy saved at the consumption level ultimately translates into an equivalent reduction of the carbon footprint. Coal and lignite PSUs are taking various energy conservation and efficiency measures, such as the use of LED lights, energy efficient ACs, electric vehicles, DC super fans, efficient water heaters, auto timers in street lights, capacitor banks and the installation of distributed and rooftop solar projects. CIL has successfully replaced 100% of its conventional lighting system with LED lights in all of its offices.
Dispelling the connotation associated with coal mining, coal and lignite PSUs are not only following a holistic approach to coal mining but also adopting sustainable and environmentally friendly coal mining practises to minimise and mitigate the adverse environmental impacts.

—The author is Joint Secretary,
Ministry of Coal, Govt of India

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