The world’s largest coal miner Coal India Limited (CIL) has decided to slow down development or expansion of its underground coal mines in the country, in view of steadily declining trends in production.
CIL operates 467 mines; of which 273 were underground, 164 opencast and 30 a mix of both. Despite the large number of underground mines, these contributed a mere 38.39-million tons of coal to the company’s total production of 435-million tons.
“Underground mines were showing a declining trend with a production drop of one-million tons every year. I do not know whether we can reverse the fall,” CIL chairperson S Narsing Rao said.
CIL has been facing criticism from the Indian government and thermal power producers for failing to increase production which has been stagnating at 435-million tons for the last two years and resultant shortfall in supplies to power plants.
“If we are to go in for mass production strategy to meet rising demand opencast mines should be the company’s prime option,” Rao said.
In a bid to increase production in the short term, CIL in 2008 had initiated a strategy to revive 18 abandoned underground mines seeking participation of global mining majors.
Based on tendering, a shortlist of companies including ArcelorMittal, Rio Tinto, Reliance Natural Resources, JSW Steel and Essar Steel was prepared but none of the companies responded during finalisation of the tendering.
Earlier this year, Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of CIL announced the opening of seven underground mines at Putki Balihari, Kapuria, Madhuban, Moonidih , Amlabad and Sumandi in Jharkhand province. However, in 2010/11, BCCL’s contributions from underground mines were a mere four-million tons.
“From a technology point of view, underground mines should be maintained but quantity that can be produced will continue to be low of one or two-million tons. None of the mines have a capacity of more than two-million ton and would not greatly add to our need to increase production,” Rao said.
India’s record in operating underground mined through longwall technology has been poor ever since collapse of heavy-duty longwall in underground mine disasters at Churcha West mines in 1989 and Kotadih in 1997.
Some of the common reasons cited by the Coal Ministry for tardy adoption of longwall technology have been restricting use of the technology to blocks left over by board and pillar mining method, longwall co-existing with conventional mining resulting in management problems and deficiencies in imported equipment and spares availability.