State-run Coal India (CIL) has targeted to increase its production of coal from underground (UG) mines to 31 million tonnes (mt) in the current financial year, ending March 2024.

The mining behemoth, which accounts for 90 per cent of India’s coal production, also aims to scale this up further to 42 mt in FY25, which commences in April 2024.

In FY23, CIL produced more than 700 mt of the critical resource, which is the mainstay of the power sector. Of this, production from underground mines stood at around 25 mt. India produced 34.85 mt of coal from UG mines, which accounted for 3.9 per cent of the pan-India production of 893.19 mt in the same period.

Coal India Director (Technical) B Veera Reddy told businessline, “We (CIL) prepared a 100-mt roadmap, and it is under implementation. Last year (FY23), we produced 25 mt and this year (FY24), it is 31 mt. In FY25, we aim to produce 42 mt. We have planned everything. The equipment has been procured and everything is being done as per roadmap schedule.”

Mining experts say that UG mining entails higher costs compared to open cast mining, with cost per tonne being more than double. However, with growing mechanisation such as use of continuous miner, it’s possible to extract higher quantities of the dry fuel from deposits deeper in the ground. Besides, it is more environment friendly, leads to lesser land and displacement of people.

The Jhanjra mine of Eastern Coalfields (ESL), a CIL subsidiary, is the country’s highest producing mechanised underground mine with a capacity of 3.5 million tonnes per annum (mtpa).

Push towards UG mining

At present coal produced from UG mines is around 4 per cent of the total output, which the Coal Ministry aims to increase to 10 per cent in the next seven years.

Reddy emphasised that underground mining’s advantage is minimal impact on environmental parameters such as land, water and air. It also does not disturb top soil, forest cover or agriculture.

He pointed out that global coal production was around 8.5 billion tonnes (bt) last year. Of this, more than 50 per cent comes from UG mining. In China, about 3.7-3.8 bt (of the total 4 bt output) comes from UG mining. In South Africa, its 50 per cent, the US (37 per cent) and 20 per cent in Australia.

Policy for UG mines

On November 15 last year, Coal Secretary Amrit Lal Meena said the Ministry seeks to enhance production from underground coal mines to 100 mt by 2030 from the current 26 mt annually.

“Such mines have already been identified. We had constituted a high-level committee to suggest policy measures to promote underground mining. The committee has submitted its report, the recommendations of the committee are with the Ministry. They are under different discussion stages, and we will shortly come out with a suitable policy framework,” he had informed.

Meena emphasised that environmental impact of UG mining is lower compared to OC mining as large-scale deforestation is not required, and displacement of people too is significantly lesser. Besides, loss of farmland also comes down.