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CIL Shifts Focus to mining Underground for Boosting Production Figures

The Maharatna has some concerns on it platter since the Supreme Court verdict on coal blocks. Faced with a stiff demand despite the deallocations, it is consolidating output and planning ahead while preparing for the re-auction

Coal India, under pressure to improve productivity, plans to utilise its existing underground resources more efficiently as it is becoming increasingly difficult to open new mines due to challenges involved in land acquisition and environmental clearances. The state-run mining giant aims to consolidate its operations by closing unproductive mines to pay better attention to the mines with better prospects.

In 2013-14, Coal India produced 462 million tonne (mt) of coal, missing its target of 482 mt. The coal ministry anticipates local supply to fall as much as 185 mt short of the country's projected demand of 950 mt in 2016-17.

Out of CIL's 467 mines, 273 are underground and 164 opencast, while the remaining 30 are mixed mines. However, underground mines contribute only about 8% of the company's total production. This figure has been steadily falling, to slightly over 36 mt in 2013-14 from over 43 mt in 2009-10. Underground mines account for 90% of production in China, 30% in the US and 25% in Australia.

“We intend to arrest the drop in production from underground mines by identifying more productive mines and introducing more mechanisation. We also want to take a relook at prospects of reopening mines that have been abandoned but can be made productive with mechanisation,” a technical director of one of Coal India subsidiaries said. CIL is working on strategies to augment underground production by partially mechanising operations. It is installing man-riding systems in mines to utilise shift hours fully by saving time taken by workers in reaching underground mining locations. “Underground coal mining is a challenging area and we need to identify a suitable approach to harness the potential of each mine. We plan to undertake a study of 90 of our underground mines with the help of global experts,“ said the director. The study is likely to be completed by end of this fiscal year through March. “However, mine-specific studies may take a little longer to prepare detailed plans for restoration of production plan.“

Amar Bhasin, vice president of mining equipment supplier Hindustan Global Resources, said Coal India's steps on increasing production from underground mines require heavy mechanisation and skilled manpower to operate the machines. “Coal India has highly unskilled, labour-intensive operations that need to be mechanised to increase production. We expect the proposed study to increase mechanisation of underground mining operations to break the trend and improve efficiencies and safety standards,“ he said.

The study will cover problems, potential, technology, modernisation, production and safety issues involved in the company's underground coal mining operations. Coal India also wants to know the availability and requirement of skilled manpower.

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