Making Coal Mining “Green”

By Outlook Planet Desk June 05, 2023

Pralhad Joshi, the Union Minister for Coal, explains how efforts have been taken over the past nine years to promote sustainable mining by juggling environmental concerns with ensuring that there is an adequate supply of coal and lignite in the nation to fulfil rising energy needs

Making Coal Mining “Green”
Union Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi.

We want sustainable coal mining, which is why we are planting trees in huge numbers on mined out land. We are also trying to store mine water to make it available for irrigation, treating the water for drinking, and other uses. Apart from that, we have earmarked Rs. 6,000 crore for coal gasification, where emissions are comparatively lower. From 2014-15 to 2022-23, we have increased the green cover over about 16262 hectares of land, planting about 37.03 million saplings. All efforts are being made to maintain this as well. By reclaiming mining land through afforestation and conservation of water bodies, we have been able to promote eco-tourism in 30 places where families are able to enjoy the various facilities provided.

In keeping with the target set by the Prime Minister, together with the power ministry, we have set a target to meet 50% of our energy needs through non-fossil fuel power generation. While addressing the environmental concern, we are also ensuring that our energy needs are met, which is very important. Currently, India’s per capita power consumption is among the lowest in the world. It is not possible to live in darkness to protect the environment, so we are trying to balance both concerns by pushing for coal gasification. Talcher Fertilisers is a good example of how coal gasification can be used for the production of ammonia/urea in the future. The fertilizer unit also has a coal based captive power plant, which uses coal from the Talcher mines. We want to make coal gasification commercially viable. Some companies have claimed that they have the requisite technology for coal gasification, therefore, bids will be invited.

Solar power is another area where we have given a lot of thrust. Our NLC India Ltd. (formerly Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd.) has emerged as the number one CPSU to tap solar energy to produce green energy. In fact, they were the first to set up 1 GW of solar power generation capacity in the country. Coal India has been given the target of meeting whatever the domestic requirement of coal is, but as mining also requires electricity, they too have been directed to generate and use solar energy. All our coal companies are targeting net zero in the next three years.

The government has approved a policy for the systematic and environmentally friendly use of de-coaled land. This includes large scale afforestation, setting up solar plants, evaluation of setting up of pump storage systems, development of water storage structures, etc.  The Government of India has recently approved policy guidelines that enable afforestation of de-coaled land to be used towards meeting requirements for compensatory afforestation and thus future development of forest land.

The coal mining sector has been opened up for private investment. Environment laws are being strictly implemented to ensure checks on emissions and the protection of ecology.

M/o Coal, M/o Power, and M/o Railways are working together to promote Rail-Sea-Rail multi model transportation of coal.

The Hon'ble Prime Minister has launched the PM Gati-Shakti Master Plan for providing connectivity to economic zones. Evacuation of coal from coal producing states to different consumer destinations has been analysed and based on the requirement, M/o Railways has planned additional coal evacuation rail infrastructure, keeping in view of the futuristic requirement.

The country produced 893 MT of coal last year. The production is projected to go up until 2040. Therefore, to meet the additional evacuation requirement, massive investment in railway lines, sidings, coal handling plants, and automatic loading and unloading facilities has been undertaken.

Balancing coal needs with environmental conservation

All sustainable development activities/initiatives of the Ministry of Coal align with India’s Panchamrita commitments made at CoP 26 to be net zero by 2070 & India’s updated and first nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement (2021-2030) of working towards climate justice.

To achieve the target, over the last several years, the coal ministry has been trying to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly coal mining, for which a full-fledged Sustainability & Just Transition (S&JT) Division has been set up. The purpose is to provide a better environment for people working and residing in the vicinity of mines. The S&JT has been focusing on land amelioration, green cover and plantation, air quality, gainful utilization of mine water, energy efficient measures, eco-parks/mine tourism, gainful utilization of overburden (OB), planning, and monitoring the mitigation measures taken by Coal/Lignite PSUs for maximizing resource utilization in an ethical way. The coal sector is also implementing First Mile Connectivity (FMC) projects, the extraction of coal bed methane (CBM), etc. to reduce the carbon footprints of coal mining. The effort has been to minimize the adverse impact of mining and mitigate it for further ecosystem services, with the aim of easing the lives of people and communities residing in and around mining areas.

Greening Initiatives

Returning the land affected by mining to stable and productive post-mining land uses is fundamental to responsible environmental stewardship. Three tier biological reclamation in both external and internal dumps is undertaken through expert agencies, i.e., State Forest Development Corporations. Species for biological reclamation are selected in consultation with expert agencies like SFDC, ICFRE, NEERI, etc. Coal/ Lignite PSUs have created huge green cover by undertaking plantations during the last 9 years and creating a potential carbon sink, thereby contributing to mitigating climate change. The Ministry of Coal has set a target of about 2500 ha for FYs 2023-24. The reclaimed land is also used for agriculture purposes. The use of innovative techniques such as seed ball plantation, seed casting through drones, and Miyawaki plantation in various mines are in place. These afforestation activities and green belt development arrest the suspended dust particles emitted during mining operations and help to control air pollution. These efforts are being rigorously monitored using remote sensing technology.

Eco-parks and Mine Tourism

Mining areas, after exhaustion of coal reserves, offer good potential for promoting tourism by developing eco-parks, sites for water sports, underground visits, avenues for recreation, adventure, bird watching etc. Coal/Lignite PSUs are developing eco-parks on reclaimed land by undertaking sustainable mine closure practices. These mining sites are now stable, environmentally sustainable, and aesthetically very beautiful. Coal/Lignite PSUs have so far created 30 eco-parks/Mine and mine tourism sites.  The attraction of these facilities can be judged by the fact that they witnessed a footfall of about 4 lakh during FY 2022-23. This year, the PSUs have set a target of creating 6 more eco-parks. They have also integrated seven of these parks with the local tourism circuit.

Gainful Utilization of Mine Water

In line with the Jal Shakti Abhiyan of the Government of India to promote water conservation and water resource management, Coal/Lignite PSUs under the guidance of the Ministry of Coal are doing their bit to address the issue of water in and around the mining areas. They are supplying more than 3700 LKL of treated mine water for community purposes, benefitting over 17.7 lakh people in 981 villages in 9 states every year and also creating irrigation potential for 1.73 lakh acres of agricultural land annually. Coal/Lignite PSUs have set a target of 4250 LKL for gainful utilization of mine water for community use – drinking as well as irrigation purposes). Coal companies have also entered into MoUs with 7 state governments to provide raw mine water for community use in the respective states.  Further, the Ministry of Coal has also directed coal companies to develop water filled mine voids as Amrit Sarovars. Moving beyond just water supply, Coal/Lignite PSUs are also developing Pisciculture/Floating /Boating in old/abandoned water filled quarries, which provide employment to locals.

Promoting Circular Economy (Waste to Wealth)

The Ministry of Coal has been encouraging Coal/ Lignite PSUs to start an out of box initiative to produce M-sand from overburden at a much cheaper price. This ensures the use of processed OB for stowing and construction purposes. The objective is to minimise environmental pollution due to sand siltation from overburden while serving as a source of cheaper sand for construction purposes and minimise riverbed sand mining.  To promote the circular economy, Coal/Lignite PSUs have commissioned 8 such plants, and 7 more are in various stages of development. The OB is also used for the lining of railway lines and the construction of roads as filling material.

Management of Air Quality in Coal Mines

To minimize dust generation during mining processes, modern technologies are being adopted and regularly monitored. In the last two years, Coal/Lignite PSUs have deployed/installed 283 mist sprayer/fog cannons, 11-wheel washers, 18 mechanical road sweepers, and 59 CAAQMS. Coal companies are also commissioning the projects of First Mile Connectivity (FMC Projects) to replace the system of convention loading and road transport with a rapid mechanized loading system for transport through Rail/MGR/Conveyors/tube conveyor network,which also reduces the burden on the environment.


R.O. Plant Facility at WCL
R.O. Plant Facility at WCL

Promoting renewable energy

Coal companies are going for both rooftop solar and ground mounted solar projects, particularly in some of the reclaimed mining areas. As of March 31, Coal/lignite PSUs had installed solar capacity of about 1605 MW and windmills of 51 MW. It is planned to install 5560 MW of renewable capacity by FY 2025-26. To achieve this, the companies have been directed to explore the possibility of installing solar plants on stabilized OB dumps, floating solar on water filled mine voids, and the possibility of Pumped Storage Plant (PSP) using abandoned water filled UG and OC mine voids.

 LiFE Movement in Coal Sector

Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) is a movement for the global community of individuals and institutions to drive towards “mindful and deliberate utilisation, instead of mindless and destructive consumption” to protect and preserve the environment. The Ministry of Coal has directed its employees and coal companies to adopt LiFE activities in their day-to-day activities at the individual, community, and professional levels.