The proposed task force would look into various aspects of underground coal mining, including cost of production, capital requirement, safety and technology.

A proposal has been mooted in the Coal Ministry to constitute a task force to map out a strategy for increasing production from underground mines, as part of a long-term solution to India’s coal shortage problem.

The proposal has been mooted by the industry, comprising the state-run miners Coal India Ltd and Singareni Collieries Co Ltd, which account for 90 per cent of India’s coal production.

The proposed task force, which will have senior officials and technical experts from the Ministry and the industry, would look into various aspects of underground coal mining, including cost of production, capital requirement, safety and technology.

“It is at an early stage, but the Ministry has shown keen interest in the proposal. For, there is a need to step up production from underground mines, which hold out significant potential,” Sutirtha Bhattacharya, SCCL’s CMD, told Business Line.

Today, almost 90 per cent of the coal shovelled out by the two government-run miners is from open cast mines. The share of underground mines in the total coal production has come down steadily from 18.51 per cent in 2002-03 to 13.39 per cent in 2006-07, 10.30 per cent in 2010-11 and 9.60 per cent last fiscal.

In the last 10 years, production from underground mines registered a negative growth in eight years.

Last year, while the open cast mines contributed 488 million tonnes (mt), the underground segment only threw up about 51 mt. Out of this, CIL’s share was 38.39 mt, as against an open cast production of 397.44 mt, while Singareni gave 10.6 mt.

In fact, CIL’s underground production steadily declined in the last 10 years from 48 mt in 2002-03 to 43.5 mt in 2007-08 and 38.39 mt last fiscal.

The proposed task force will suggest ways to reduce production cost. Today, the cost of underground mining is more than double that of open cast mines at between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 a tonne.

“This fiscal, we have been able to reduce our production cost from underground mines to Rs 3,283 a tonne through use of modern equipment, while that from open cast mines was Rs 1,332,” Bhattacharya said.

amitmitra@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 5, 2013)
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