How much coal does Coal India produce? The buzz is that the annual production figures are often inflated to meet targets.

To make its numbers more authentic and root out corruption, the state-run miner is now planning a technological intervention.

Beginning 2015-16, production and over-burden (the earth exposed for coal extraction from opencast mines) removal will be measured by laser scanners, according to a Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) official.

The CMPDI is the services arm of CIL and is entrusted by the miner for project implementation. “We have already deployed three laser scanners. Four more are ordered,” the official said.

This is a sea change from the current practice of measuring the stock manually, but just the beginning.

In the next step, the company will press UAV (unmanned air vehicle, popularly referred as drones), into service to asses the stock. “The use of drones will help us in accumulating data faster,” he says.

According to a former senior CIL executive, the initiative may go a long way in preventing leakages and strengthening the company’s balance-sheet.

The extracted fuel or over-burden is moved by trucks to dumps on pit-head.

Naturally, any over-reporting in either of these areas, leads to higher payment to truckers for a work that was never done.

Also, over-reporting in production has an inflationary effect on the company’s earnings. However, since a good part of CIL’s annual production rots on pithead, due to lack of evacuation infrastructure, the distortion goes unnoticed.

Green initiatives Technology is also used in assessing the environmental impact of mining and land reclamation. “We have launched an initiative for digital monitoring of air quality of coalfields,” the CMPDI official said.

Ideally, coal mining generates suspended particles. But the air quality of a coalfield is often impacted by heavy concentration of user industries, he adds.

The initiative will help the company avoid the blame for overall deterioration of air-quality, if any.

Similarly, projects are under way in Central Coalfields Ltd and Bharat Coking Coal Ltd, to improve the quality of vegetation in reclaimed land (post mining).

“As per the norm, CIL pays the forest department for land reclamation. It created 2.5 hectares of forest against every 1 hectare mined. But there are issues with the quality of green. We are now trying to improve that,” he said.

Drilling grows The CMPDI posted record increase in drilling activity by 28 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, over the last two years.

However, the company fell short of the drilling target by a wide margin.

The failure is attributed to green restrictions (imposed since 2006) and poor law and order in pockets of Jharkhand like Godda and Dumka. The contract drilling is particularly affected, he said.