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Balakrishanan: We have suggested measures to expedite various clearances.

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Balakrishanan: We have suggested measures to expedite various clearances

India is heavily dependent on coal and to meet its energy requirements and as per one estimate the country will require about 2 billion tonne of coal per annum by the year 2030-31, which means a four to five fold jump from the current level of 450 million tonne. INFRASTRUCTURE TODY spoke exclusively to C Balakrishnan, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Coal, about the future course of action. Excerpts from the interview.

Blocks allotted to power companies have not been developed thereby leading to a lopsided picture of coal productivity. The power companies are meanwhile seeking coal linkages to ward off shortages. How do you plan to resolve this impasse?

The Ministry of Coal is monitoring the progress of development of the captive coal blocks and taking action to take back the blocks if the progress is not satisfactory on grounds squarely attributable to inaction on the part of the allocatee(s). The Ministry of Environment & Forests has been apprised of the need for expeditious environmental and forestry clearances for the timely development of the captive blocks and augmenting domestic coal production. However, during the period the block is developed and rated capacity is achieved, tapering linkages are also being considered, on case to case basis, to help power generation. It needs to be noted that no power project is granted coal block and linkage at the same time. In case a power project having coal linkage gets a block allocated subsequently, the linkage gets tapered off.

Why are private sector and public sector companies scouting for overseas mines when our coal mines lie unexplored?

Superior grade non-coking coal and coking coal are short in supply in the country. The efforts of the industry are mainly to secure assured supplies of the desired quality of coal. Coal is the lowest cost option for power generation and coking coal is a critical input for steel making. To secure the supplies and to improve our energy security it is important for the industry to be able to access coal resources from abroad as necessary. It is in this context that coal companies and other industries are encouraged to acquire coal properties abroad.

Why is Coal India asked to import coal on behalf of the private sector companies when it is not able to fulfill the demand laid down by the private companies? Is it not easier for the private companies to seek their own requirements?

In order to meet the projected demand under the New Coal Distribution Policy, CIL, as the single largest national coal producer, has been mandated to supply the normative levels of coal. If the consumer's demand is more than the normative level of supply, he would need to import the balance requirement on his own. However, if CIL is unable to supply the normative requirements through indigenous sources, they would also have to import coal to make supplies up to the normative levels. Further, private companies are at liberty to import coal on their own and coal is already placed on the Open General License (OGL) list.

How do you plan to reduce the delay in getting environment clearance?

We are in constant touch with Ministry of Environment & Forests and have suggested certain measures for expediting the clearances. For example, to reduce the time period involved in the process of Environmental Clearance (EC), the issue of a two part model Terms of Reference (TOR) for opencast and underground mines, has been suggested with Part A consisting of the common project particulars and Part B with project specific details. State governments have been requested to expedite the holding of public hearings and reduce time delays in according their consent for forest land diversion etc. Similarly, for expediting forestry clearances efforts are being made to adhere to the prescribed time schedules of 150 days for new approvals and 120 days for renewals. Improved coordination with the nodal officers at the state level has been felt necessary for expediting forestry clearances and coal companies have been advised to strengthen the coordination mechanism at their level with the respective state governments.

What steps are being taken to allow the coal producers to increase production beyond licensed limits if they could also make provisions for environment regulations as this could keep up the production to a targeted level in case of bottlenecks in certain plants?

A decision has been made that Ministry of Environment & Forests will consider extending environmental clearance (EC) for the peak production capacity of a mine and that coal companies would submit environment management plans accordingly so that any back references to MoEF for EC time and again can be avoided whenever there is a proposal for expansion up to the peak rated capacity.

What are the plans for enhancing underground mining for exploring deeper coal deposits?

The coal companies have drawn up an action plan for enhancing coal production from the underground mines by taking up new mines with better economies of scale and state of the art Longwall Technology, in association with global equipment manufacturers. Besides efforts are also on for mechanising the manual operations wherever feasible, deploying mechanised loading systems using Side Discharge Loaders (SDLs), Load Haul Dumpers (LHDs), belt conveyors, and deploying Continuous Miner technology etc. The revival of old or abandoned mines with the help of global players is also a major step under consideration in this direction.

Power producers are claiming that given the target in the eleventh plan and the twelfth plan the coal requirements will fall short. Please comment?

There are coal production capacity constraints and the efforts of the coal companies would need to be supplemented by other players. With this in view, a number of players have been permitted to take up coal mining within the existing legal framework. Group captive mining is also being encouraged. Once considerable production from the captive blocks commences, the demand/supply scenario will change significantly.

However, the estimated gap between demand and supply in the terminal year of the Eleventh Plan, 2011-12, is still 51 million tonne, which needs to be met through imports.

Since everybody is going green, what are the steps or initiatives taken by the ministry to make coal sector eco and environmental friendly?

It is mandatory to seek Environmental Clearance (EC) before commencing the coal mining operations. A number of mitigative measures are taken in conducting the mining operations in line with the EC and strict monitoring by local pollution control agencies guide the industry in containing the pollutants within the prescribed limits. Plantation of trees on overburden dumps and reclamation of mined out areas is being done in a big way. The Ministry is shortly issuing guidelines for preparing Mine Closure Plans for adoption by mine owners which would help in completing the mining operations and handing over the reclaimed land back to the government. This would also shore up the credibility of the coal companies with the State Governments and the MoEF.

State of the art technologies are being adopted for increasing the percentage of extraction of reserves and conserving coal resources. Besides, CIL has declared 2009-10 as the Year of Environment in order to improve awareness and compliance of all environmental regulations etc. The power industry is already taking action for the increased use of washed thermal coal for power generation which is critical both from the environmental and economic points of view. CIL is establishing 19 new washeries within the next few years with a capacity of about 101 million tonne per annum, to enhance the availability of washed thermal coal. Concerted efforts are being made for the supply of consistent quality of coal by the producers.

New areas like Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Coal Mine Methane (CMM) are being pursued to extract energy resources, improve the safety of mining operations, particularly in the underground mines and for reducing emissions. Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is also under focus to extract energy from deep seated coal deposits that are not workable using conventional means. The Ministry is also issuing guidelines for operationalisation of UCG projects in the country and also considering the allotment of a few blocks for this purpose.

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Publication:Infrastructure Today
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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