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TERI Information Digest on Energy and Environment
Year : 2005, Volume : 4, Issue : 2
First page : ( 127) Last page : ( 136)
Print ISSN : 0972-6721.

A review of the environmental management practices in the Indian mining sector

Banerjee Prof. SP

Former Director-in-charge, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad-826 004, India

Growth of the mining sector

The growth in the value of mineral production from 26 567 crore rupees in 1993/94 to 66 308 crore rupees in 2003/04 (MoM, GoI [1996 and 2004]) represents an average annual growth rate of 9.6% in the last decade. However, a major part of this growth is due to inflation and if the same is discounted, the average growth in the mineral sector comes to 3.6% per year over the last 10 years. For some minerals such as chromite (12.3%), bauxite (8.1%), iron ore (7.8%), and limestone (6.3%), the average annual growth in tonnage produced (shown in parenthesis) has been substantial. The increase in the production of fuel minerals, namely, coal (3.9%), lignite (4.4%), crude oil (2.4%), and natural gas utilized (5.1%) has also been considerable.

A 1999/2000 government estimate puts 26.1% of the Indian population as living below the poverty line (Manorama Year Book 2005). One of the objectives of the Tenth and Eleventh Five-year Plans is to make a quick dent on the widespread poverty and unemployment prevailing in the country by a rapid growth of 7% to 8% in the Indian economy. The corresponding required growth in the industrial sector, estimated at 8% to 10% per year, is possible only if there is an abundant supply of energy, metals, and minerals. Electricity is the preferred form of energy for use by the industry and is a vital requirement for expansion of the industrial and agricultural sectors. Nearly two-thirds of the power generated in the country comes from coal-fired power stations and with the steep increase in the international price of oil and natural gas in the last two years, the share of coal in electricity generation is likely to go up in the country. Besides cheap and abundant power, a rapidly growing economy would need an expansion of the cement, steel, fertilizer, paper, textiles, and other industries—all pushing up the demand for coal in the country. An exercise by Coal India Ltd for demand projection of coal for the next 20 years shows that the coal demand would go up from 405 MT (million tonnes) in 2004/05 to 1267 MT in 2024/25 assuming an annual GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate of 8%, and to 1147 MT if the GDP growth rate is assumed to be 7%. The Ministry of Coal and Mines, GoI (Government of India) has envisaged a large-scale expansion of the coal production from the current figure of 380 MT to 1061 MT by the year 2024/25 (Kumar 2005).

The expansion plans applicable to coal are also applicable to iron ore, limestone, and bauxite mining sectors. The projection made for steel production in the country is 50 MT by 2010 and 100 MT by 2020 (Sen 2004). Thus, iron ore requirement for the domestic sector of the iron and steel industry would go up from 55 MT to 150 MT. With the spurt in the price of iron ore in the international market in the last two years, iron ore export figures have gone up from 23 MT in 2002/03 to 57 MT in 2003/04, and unless some kind of restrictions are imposed by the government, the iron export figures would easily go up to the level of 80 to 100 MT in the next couple of years. With a production of 114 MT, India ranks second amongst the cement producing countries of the world. With emphasis on the growth of infrastructure and housing sectors in the Five-year Plans, a rapid growth of the cement sector and consequently an expansion of limestone mining is taking place in the country. Expansion of the existing and opening of new bauxite mines is also taking place to meet the increasing demand of aluminium in the country linked principally to expansion of the electrical, construction, and packaging industries.

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Increase in share of opencast mining

All the mines of iron ore, limestone, and bauxite are opencast mines. Most of the new coal mines would also be of the opencast type. In fact, the percentage share of underground production in the total coal production in the country has gradually gone down in the last 25 years, from a figure of 62% in 1979/80 to 17.4% in 2003/04, and the diminishing trend is continuing. Opencast mining is more damaging to the environment as it causes deforestation and creates big holes and large overburden dumps on the earth's surface. Mining can also lead to air, water and noise pollution, hydrologic disturbance, involuntary displacement of persons, disturbance to wildlife, and can pose a hazard to the public during and after mining unless adequate precautions are taken.

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Regulatory framework for environmental safeguards

The regulatory framework to ensure environmental safeguards in carrying out mining operations is provided by the EPA (Environmental Protection Act), 1986. The Environmental Impact Notification of 1994 issued under the EPA, 1986 contains a list of 32 types of development projects for which prior environmental clearance has to be taken from the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests), GoI. Mining of major minerals on leaseholds exceeding 5 ha (hectares) in area is included in this list. Two other related acts are the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 administered by the respective SPCBs (state pollution control boards). These SPCBs issue annual consent letters permitting discharge of effluents or emission of air pollutants into the atmosphere along with stipulations for mitigating measures and requirement of quarterly monitoring report and an annual environmental statement.

Another statutory provision related to environmental protection measures in mines is the MCDR (Mineral Conservation and Development Rules), 1988 framed under the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act, 1957.1 Chapter V of MCDR, 1988 is devoted fully to the protection of environment and in addition Rules 23A to 23F dealing with mine closure have been inserted by an amendment of the MCDR, 1988 in April 2003. Many mineral deposits occur wholly or partly in forest areas and the Forestry Division of MoEF, GoI generally imposes many environment-related conditions while giving clearance for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

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Role of public hearing in the EIA process

The EIA (environmental impact assessment) 1994 was amended in 1997 to introduce the concept of public hearing in the EIA process. This gives an opportunity to the local community to voice their concerns relating to the project before it receives environmental clearance. For arranging a public hearing, a project proponent has to apply to the concerned SPCB with 20 sets of executive summary and the EIA/EMP (environment management programme) of the project both in English as well as in the local language. The SPCB publishes a notification in at least two local newspapers giving the date, time, and place of the proposed public hearing. A minimum of 30 days should be there between publication of the notice and the conduct of the public hearing. All persons likely to be affected including bonafide residents, environmental groups, and others located at the project site can have access to the executive summary and the EIA/EMP of the project, can and participate in the public hearing. They can also make oral or written suggestions to the SPCB regarding the project. The SPCB forms the public hearing panel which must have the Deputy Collector of the district or his nominee, state government officials, and may include not more than three representatives of the local bodies/panchayats and not more than three senior citizens of the area nominated by the deputy collector. The project proponent gets an opportunity at the public hearing to explain the environmental safeguards incorporated in the project and to clear apprehensions, if any, expressed by various stakeholders. The details of the public hearing such as date and name of the newspapers in which notice of the public hearing was advertised, date of public hearing, name of panel members present, number of people present, issues raised by the public, response of the proponent, and suggestions made by the public hearing panel form a part of the report to be included with the application for environmental clearance submitted to the MoEF, GoI. The experience gained so far from the public hearing process of mining projects is a mixed one. The most common issue raised by the public relates to the provision of jobs for the local community in the project and next important issue is the programme for community development to be carried out by the proponent in the surrounding villages. The core environmental issues of air and water pollution, lowering of ground water table, noise, and vibration etc., are also sometimes, although less frequently, raised. When a public hearing is held for an existing project (undergoing expansion or for renewal of lease), the public generally supports such a proposal as it brings economic benefit to the region. However, occasionally, sharp criticisms to the project are also voiced, quite often by disgruntled NGO groups and these are moderated by the public hearing panel and included in the report forwarded to the MoEF, GoI.

Many small mines, especially of low value non-metallic industrial minerals, have small leaseholds and an annual turnover of a few lakhs of rupees only. The public hearing process is too expensive for the owners of such mines and experience showed that not much benefit was accruing from the public hearing conducted for such projects. In 2003, MoEF, GoI decided to waive off the requirement of public hearing for mines with a lease area of less than 25 ha.

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Mine closure plans

In the olden days mining was carried out without paying much heed to the protection of environment. Old mining regions often contain abandoned and exhausted mines presenting pictures of derelict land surfaces. The April 2003 amendment of the MCDR 1988 attempts to address the problem through its requirement for every mine to have (a) a PMCP (progressive mine closure plan) and (b) an FMCP (final mine closure plan). The PMCP forms apart of the approved mining plan of the mine and is prepared for the purpose of providing protective, reclamation, and rehabilitation measures in a mine.2 The PMCP has to be reviewed every five years by the mine management and approved by an authorized officer of IBM (Indian Bureau of Mines) or the state government. The FMCP, on the other hand, means a plan for the purpose of decommissioning, reclamation, and rehabilitation in the mine after cessation of mining and has to be submitted for approval of the authorized officer of IBM or the state government one year prior to the proposed closure of the mine. The April 2003 amendment of the MCDR has made it mandatory for a mining leaseholder to furnish sureties to the competent authorities so as to indemnify the authorities against the reclamation and rehabilitation cost if the same is not carried out by the lessee. Regulation 23F of the MCDR puts the amount of financial assurance to be 25 000 rupees for A category mines and 15 000 rupees for B category mines, per hectare of the mining lease area put to use for mining and allied activities.

The MCDR 1988 is not applicable to mines of oil, gas, coal, lignite, minor minerals, and minerals prescribed under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, and hence mines of these minerals have no statutory requirement to prepare mine closure plans or to furnish financial assurance to ensure decommissioning and reclamation of the mined out areas. The coal industry, on its own, has started preparing mine closure plans and incorporates the same in the EIA/EMPs prepared these days. The coal companies have also started earmarking a contribution varying between 1 rupee to 3.5 rupees per tonne of coal production to cover the cost of mine closure. Only two years have passed since the introduction of the requirement of mine closure planning in MCDR 1988 and the guidelines prepared need to be reviewed after more experience is gained in the matter.

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Diversion of forest lands and creation of new forests

The mining industry differs from other industries in one vital aspect, namely the lack of choice for its location. A mine comes up wherever the mineral deposit occurs be it on a forested tract, an area with hilly topography, or in an arid or high rainfall zone. The per capita availability of forest land of 0.07 ha in India is extremely low to provide for the timber, fuelwood, and fodder needs of the country. Of the 23.4% of land area in the country recorded as forest land only 20.5% has some kind of forest and only 11.5% of the area has got a forest cover of more than 40% crown density. The gravity of the situation was realized even a quarter century ago and the Forest Conservation Act was enacted in the year 1980 with strict provisions to regulate the diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes, and to ensure compensatory afforestation for the diverted forest land. As the mining industry expands in the coming decade, further diversion of a few thousand hectares of forest land cannot be avoided. However, the mining industry's track record in the recent years in creating new forests on overburden dumps and mined out areas, and increasing tree cover in its leaseholds by creating green belts, avenue plantation, and social forestry measures has been highly praiseworthy. These days, large mining organizations generally make substantial budgetary allocation and carry out their plantation programme in cooperation with or through the agencies of state forest development corporations. Aerial photographs of the mining regions taken these days invariably show dense greenery in the mine leasehold compared to the bare or thinly covered surrounding region. A 2004 FIMI (Federation of Indian Mineral Industries) publication titled 'Environment in non-coal mines' gives many illustrations of successful afforestation programmes carried out by the mining industry in various regions of the country (FIMI 2004).

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Environmental pollution control measures

The annual consent requirements from the SPCBs under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 have been mentioned earlier. Almost all mines treat pumped out water from pits, run-off water from overburden dumps, and garland drains in settling ponds before allowing it to go out of the leasehold. The workshop effluent is generally treated in an oil and grease trap cum settling pond before it is reused or let out of the leasehold. Large mines having a sizeable township usually construct a sewage treatment plant and the treated effluent is generally used for watering the green belt and other plantations. Where a wet type mineral beneficiation plant forms a part of the mine complex, a lot of care is taken in the construction and maintenance of the tailings pond and reuse of the water from the same. Anti-siltation measures such as early afforestation, covering of slopes with geotextiles, and erection of series of check dams on nullahs and rivulets are common in all mining areas.

For abating dust pollution, a mine uses mobile and fixed water sprinklers on haul roads, loading, unloading and transfer points, and crusher houses. In arid regions, a check has to be kept on the industrial use of water, and more and more number of mines are adopting rainwater harvesting and recycling of water as a standard practice. Either dry or wet type dust collectors are used with blast hole drills. Where the rock conditions permit, more number of mines are switching over to extraction with 'surface miners', ripper dozers, or primary rock breakers as an alternative to drilling and blasting and thus eliminate many related problems of dust, noise, ground vibration, and fly rock. In an effort to contain the cost of production and also to avoid the risk of affecting the sub-surface hydrologic regime, some mines restrict their workings to a depth less than the depth of the water table even if the mineral deposit extends to a greater depth. This practice may be beneficial from the environmental protection point of view but is against the spirit of conservation of minerals as a pit once excavated and backfilled is hardly excavated again. Hence, this practice should be restricted only to small mines of low-value minerals for which abundant resources are available.

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Mine planning and post mine land use plan

To meet the growing need of minerals in the country and at the same time ensure that the environmental damage is kept to the minimum, all the positive mitigating measures currently being taken by the mining industry should be pursued and strengthened. In addition, efforts should be made to have regional plans for each important mining region so that sequential mining may permit casting of overburdens from one mine into the excavation created by an earlier one. All coal-based thermal power stations are beset with the problem of fly ash disposal. Of the 100 MT of fly ash currently produced annually, only 20% is utilized for road construction, manufacture of pozzolana cement, and fly ash bricks. By 2024/25 the fly ash production has been estimated at 275 MT/year and this would be difficult to dispose. Regional planning of coalfields may partially solve the problem of ash disposal from the pithead power stations. Deep opencast coal mines generally leave a sizeable void at the dip most part of the excavation at the closing stage of the mine. These can be used for fly ash disposal after working out the techno-economics of the system and ruling out any danger of groundwater contamination. This would reduce the land requirement for ash pond and at the same time improve the topography of the mined out land, and may permit a better land use of the area.

The deposit characteristics should be given greater importance (than given at present) in mine planning, if necessary by increasing the exploration expenditure, especially for finding the base of the deposits and determining how early backfilling of the voids can be started. Many mines at present create huge external overburden dumps, as the mine management is not sure about the continuation of the ore body or economical mining at depth. Larger the size of a mine, the better can be its planning from the operational as well as the environmental considerations. Current legislation (Rule 22D of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960) permits mining lease to be granted for a minimum of 1 ha area for small, isolated, and shallow deposits having up to 200 m strike length, 2 ha for beach sand or placer deposits, and 4 ha for all others. Ideally, the mine leaseholds should be of large size and regular geometric shape based only on the geological structure of the deposit and the topography of the area. In principle, intensive mining over a large leasehold to produce a given tonnage, leading to its early exhaustion followed by quick reclamation is better from environmental considerations than operating many small mines spread over fragmented leaseholds over a larger area for many years with delayed reclamation. The minimum desirable size of a mine leasehold would vary with the type of mineral, characteristic of the deposit, and the topography but a figure of 25 to 50 ha would be more appropriate than the currently permitted figure of 4 ha. A mine leasehold may have a mixed category of pre-mining land use. A part of it might have been under forest cover, another government-owned wasteland, and still others might have been tenancy lands of various land use categories. Mining being an interim use of the land, the footprints of mining should ideally be removed soon after the activity, and the area restored to near-original topography and similar or better land use. In many cases agricultural land is acquired for a mine and with the resources in command of a mining company (funds, earth moving machinery, water supply, and manpower), it should be possible to convert a major part of the post-mining land suitable for agriculture. Conversion to agricultural land would result in better land use and provide a greater employment opportunity for the surrounding community. But this is not the common method of land reclamation currently practised by the mining companies. A mining company needs to invest more for the conversion of mined land to agricultural land than to forest land, and at present there is no incentive for the mining companies to make the extra investment on land reclamation. The policy-makers in the government for the mining sector as well as the mining associations need to deliberate on alternative methods of land reclamation and take steps to modify legal restrictions, if any, on ownership of post-mine land which is standing in the way of good land reclamation practices.

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Conclusion

Mining is carried out in India for a large variety of minerals occurring in different geological, topographical, and climatological settings. As a result, a variety of environmental management practices, suitable for individual mineral deposits and locations have been developed. In this short article only the major environmental management issues common to a majority of the mining projects have been covered, leaving out the practices dealing with local problems such as mining near inhabited areas, in hilly regions, near sea coasts, and in sulphide-bearing strata with potential for acid mine drainage.

To sum up, it can be seen that the mining industry in the country will continue to grow at a fair pace in the coming years. The environmental management practices currently adopted by the mining industry, by and large, can be considered as adequate for sustainable development of the mineral resources. However, the article points out directions for further improvement through the adoption of a number of measures, such as regional planning as opposed to individual mine planning, utilization of coal mine voids for fly ash disposal from pit head thermal power stations, and conversion of mined land to agricultural land wherever possible, to generate greater employment opportunities for the community after the end of mining.

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Recent developments

  • The Ministry of Coal and M ines, GoI (Government of India), has envisaged a large- scale expansion of the coal production from the current figure of 380 MT (million tonnes) to 1061 MT by the year 2024/25 to meet the projected demand of 1267 MT of coal in 2024/25 assuming an annual GDP growth rate of 8%. The expansion plans applicable to coal are also applicable to iron ore, limestone, and bauxite mining sectors.

  • The Supreme Court has ordered to shut down all industrial and mining units throughout the country which function without the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment Clearance.

  • The Economic Survey 2004/05 has advocated hikes in the existing investment caps on coal mining.

  • The M inistry of Coal and M ines, GoI has mooted a proposal to award captive mining blocks, under the CIL (Coal India Ltd) command area, through competitive bidding to core sectors like power, steel, and cement.

  • In order to bring transparency, CIL has finalized a new marketing strategy to sell coal to non-core sector consumers through the e-auction route.

  • The board of CIL has approved to the formation of a separate subsidiary Coal Videsh Ltd to outsource both coking and low ash non-coking coal from abroad for CIL's consumers.

  • Total coal production in the country during January-November 2004 has been 346.06 MT, 6.7% more than the target value.

  • Coal ministry has projected a coal shortfall of 55 MT during the financial year 2006/07.

  • The ongoing coal shortage in the country has wreaked havoc with the power generation schedule in several of the country's larger power plants.

  • Seeking greater flexibility for the coal sector in terms of operation and pricing, coal secretary said that there was a case for allowing 20% of coal supply to be placed on the spot market.

  • The finance ministry's proposals to slash customs duty on high ash coking coal opens up opportunities for medium- and small-scale units.

  • The M inistry of Coal and M ines is planning major changes in coal prices, which would be moving towards market-driven prices for the fuel.

Footnotes

1For a more detailed coverage of the environmental protection measures under MMDR 1957 and MCDR 1988, the reader may refer to the keynote address by the author at the 1st Indian Mineral Congress (Banerjee 2005)

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2The subject of mine closure and its aftermath has been described in greater detail by the author elsewhere (Banerjee 2004).

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References

BanerjeeSP. Environmental Management for Sustainable Mineral Development.Indian Mining and Engineering Journal2004;43(4):18-22

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BanerjeeSP. Environmental Issues for Sustainable and Eco-friendly Development of Mineral Resources.New DelhiAllied Publishers(2005),xxi-xxvii[Proceedings of the First Indian Mining Congress, ISM (Indian School of Mines) Dhanbad, 28 February-1 March 2005]

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Environment in non-coal mines.Report of Group of Experts chaired by Shri G L Tandon. New DelhiFIMI(2004),84 pp

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KumarS. Coal Vision: India.Second MGMI Centenary Lecture. KolkataMGMI (Mining Geological and Metallurgical Institute of India).(2005),4 pp

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Manorama Year Book. KottayamMalayala Manorama(2005),471 pp

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Annual Report 1995-96. New DelhiMoM, Government of India(1996)

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Annual Report 2003-04. New DelhiMoM, Government of India(2004)

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SenS. Managing steel plants in environmental friendly way: need of the hour.State of Art Lecture, Edited by D Mahata, Abhiyanta Bhawan, Bokaro Steel City: IE(I).. (2004),8 pp[Proceedings of the 20th National Convention of Environmental Engineers, Bokaro Steel City, July 2004]

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