Ministry for early green light in underground coal mining



Underground mining is considered to have less impact on the immediate environment, without the need for large-scale human displacement and deforestation.

NEW DELHI : The coal ministry is seeking easier and faster environmental clearance for underground coal mines, said two people aware of the development, pushing the fossil fuel even as India transitions to renewable sources of energy.

One of the people said the ministry will push for fewer compliance requirements for underground coal mine approvals on the grounds that these mines have a lower environmental impact than opencast mines.

To be sure, coal—whether extracted underground or from opencast mines —is a major global pollutant contributing to climate change. Further, the move comes amid a national transition to green energy.

However, underground mining is considered to have less impact on the immediate environment, without the need for large-scale human displacement and deforestation.

“The ministry is looking to promote underground coal mining. Along with several incentives, the ministry is also looking to ease compliance norms such as easier environment clearance," the person cited above said, adding that the coal ministry will put forward the proposal to the environment ministry.

According to sector experts, around 70% of India’s coal reserves can be mined underground.Underground coal mining currently accounts for around 5% of overall mining in the country. Amid growing power demand and the government’s aim to reduce import dependence for coal, the Centre is focusing on boosting underground mining. For FY24, the ministry has targeted production of just over one billion tonnes of coal from underground mining.

The official cited above said the ministry may seek categorization of underground coal mines as ‘B2’, where an environment impact assessment (EIA) is not required.

Mines are categorized as A, B1 and B2, based on the land area involved, the size of the mine, and the impact on natural and artificial resources.

B2 covers projects such as thermal power plants with a capacity of up to 5 MW, onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, and mining of minor minerals within leased areas of less than 25 hectares.

Projects under category A require mandatory environmental clearance from the union environment ministry, while B1 projects need to get the EIA approved by the state environmental impact assessment authority.

Both these require public consultation, but B2 projects do not, thereby making their approvals faster than the other categories.“The aim is to lower the time taken in the approval process and start the mining process," the official cited above said.

Queries sent to the coal and environment ministries remained unanswered at press time.

The Financial Express newspaper on 1 May reported that the government is considering a slew of proposals including keeping fuel produced from underground mines away from the notified price regime.

On 18 September, Mint reported that the government is working on a production-linked incentive scheme for heavy earth moving machinery, with a focus on underground coal mining.

In June, union coal minister Pralhad Joshi said the country needs to move away from opencast to underground mining as he unveiled a vision plan for state-run Coal India Ltd to quadruple production from underground mines to 100 million tonnes by FY28. He said that by 2030, India aims to take the share of underground mined coal to 10%.

As per the road map, Coal India expects coal from underground mines to be around 31-34 million tonnes in FY24, rising to 99-100 million tonnes in FY28.

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