Heavy rain in Chhattisgarh's Korba district has led to flooding in the lower trenches of the Dipka coal mine and brought operations in the country's third-largest open-pit mining operation, which produces more than 35 million tonnes of coal every year, to a crawl with production dropping by more than 50 per cent. The mine had been closed on Monday after a nearby river overflowed its embankments. Fortunately, all workers were rescued and no loss of life has been reported.
However, the mine remains filled with water, up to 15 metres at some places, and expensive mining equipment remains submerged. Speaking to news agency Reuters on Thursday night, authorities said it would take at least a month before the mine could operate at full capacity once again.
"We are trying to achieve 30,000 tonnes production per day (against normal production of 82,000 tonnes) from the upper and middle benches in ten days," Binny Dayal, Director (Technical) at Coal India, which owns the mine, told Reuters.
The shortfall in coal is likely to force the government into increasing its import, which comes at a time when the centre is planning to cut costs by reducing its import bill for the material by 2023. To achieve this, it is planned to ramp up domestic production from the current 730 million tonnes to 1,149 million tonnes by 2023, Union Minister for Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi said on Tuesday, according to a report by news agency ANI.
Meanwhile, as power plants across the country - the mine supplies NTPC-run Sipat power plant in the state and others in Maharashtra, Gujarat - scramble to secure alternative sources of fuel, questions are now being asked about clearances given to extend the mine right up to the bank of the overflowing Lilagar River in apparent violation of environmental laws.
Between 2013 and 2018 coal output at the mine was allowed to be expanded thrice - from 29.2 million tonnes per annum to 35 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) - but never by more than five MTPA at a time.
Each expansion should have been vetted for its impact on the environment but as per a 2012 order by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, public hearings where such concerns might have been aired were waived for "one-time capacity expansion of up to 25 per cent in existing mining operations".
Coal India has consistently missed annual production targets. For the year ending March 2020 it has targeted production of 660 million tonnes, up 8.7 per cent from 2018/19.
"We are working out an emergency plan, we will try to achieve the target," Binny Dayal, Director (Technical) was quoted by Reuters.
With input from Reuters, ANI