KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) – To facilitate the induction of modern mining technology and equipment, India’s Coal Ministry is looking at merging underground mines in the same geographies and moving away from a trend of converting underground mines to opencast ones.
An official in Coal India Limited’s (CIL’s) technical consultancy arm, Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited, said that one of the biggest impediments to modernising underground mines was that the country did not have large areas of contiguous underground coal deposits, which made it difficult to deploy longwall mining technology.
Longwall mining methods were introduced through ambitious projects in the 1970s and 80s, but failed to achieve the desired results, owing to the fragmented nature of underground coal deposits.
The official said that there was a renewed focus on updating underground mining technology, and this time, the merger of underground mines, rather than the conversion to opencast operations, would be made a prerequisite to such investments.
The Coal Ministry had made the development of underground mines a key priority to increase India's coal production to one-billion tons a year by 2020, from 566-million tons a year at present.
However, officials acknowledged the challenge, pointing out that over the past decade, the contribution of coal production from underground mines to the total production had fallen from 16.3% to 8.8%.
A blueprint drawn up by CIL had laid down the contours for developing underground mines through the adoption of mass production systems, such as continuous miner and longwall technology.
The miner had proposed entering into risk-sharing arrangements with equipment suppliers, which would be required to guarantee benchmarked levels of production and maintenance of equipment. Other measures proposed included the replacement of manual loading with side discharge loaders and load haul dumpers in tandem with conveyors.
As reported by Mining Weekly Online in December 2015, the Coal Ministry had appointed a mining consultant to conduct a fresh survey and prepare a report on underground mines, which could be merged to form a larger contiguous coal block.
Officials said that the consultant had completed the survey and submitted a report, which had identified at least 45 underground mines that would be amenable to such a merger.
The officials acknowledged that any such merger would necessitate acquisition of land that currently divided existing mines and, as in most cases in India, acquiring land would prove to be a protracted process.
However, to circumvent the time taken to acquire such land, the Prime Minister’s office was working on a proposal that would exempt companies from securing federal government approvals and forest clearances in the case that land separating adjoining mines was forested.