No. 5 January 1994

Box 3

Case study: Talcher Coalfield - Environment and Rehabilitation

Talcher coalfield is located in Dhenkanal district of Orissa state in eastern India. The coalfield extends over an area of about 1800 km2 and is endowed with huge reserves of inferior grade non-coking coal in thick seams, lying at comparatively shallow depths. Total reserves are estimated at 22,800 million tonnes and the coalfield has been divided into 30 blocks for detailed exploration. Present mining operations cover an area of less than 100 km2 with 3 underground and 6 open-cast mines. The coalfield is well connected by rail and road to important centres of India. Apart from coal mining, the major industries in the area are thermal power generation and the production of fertilizers and aluminum. The area is rapidly growing into a large mining and power complex together with downstream industries.

Coal production is expected to increase from the present level of 15 million tonnes in 1992-93 to 25 million tonnes in 1996-97 and 44 million tonnes in 2001-02. The demand from consumers within the area is projected at 9 million tonnes in 1996-97 and about 11 million tonnes in 2001-02. The bulk of coal produced would be destined for power stations located in the southern region (Andhra Pradesh and amp Tamil Nadu). To supply the coal to such distant consumers, a coal transport plan has been drawn up, including expansion of Paradip port (located 200 km away from Talcher) and expansion of rail capacity between Paradip and Talcher.

Talcher coalfield was selected as the subject of the case study because of its projected growth together with its potential for meeting the demand from power stations (both within the area and distant power houses in southern India) within a reasonable time frame. The considerable environmental impacts, described below, also make Talcher a valuable example for detailed study. The coal produced is of inferior quality and requires beneficiation at washeries which would have to be established. The consuming power stations would derive benefits in the form of consistent quality of coal supplies and less ash disposal at their end. The washery rejects would be burnt in fluidised bed boilers (installed near the washery) for power generation which would augment the power supply in the area. The ash from fluidised bed boilers would be used for filling voids in quarries and partly in underground mines.

Open-cast mining and environmental impact: About 97% of coal production is expected to come from large open-cast mines. The coal-to-overburden ratios (stripping ratios) are very favourable and production capacity can be achieved in a comparatively shorter period with open-cast operation. However, open-cast mining causes substantial impact on the land, on forests, on water resources in terms of quantity and quality, and on air quality. Besides, the acquisition of land on a large scale for mining will inevitably lead to the displacement of people. Several other industrial activities in the area, including power generation, are likely to give rise to environmental degradation. A remote sensing survey carried out in 1988 indicated that reserve forests constitute about 14% of the mining area in this coalfield. Future expansion of mining activities require an estimated land area of 2580 hectares, of which 300 hectares would be forest area. This large-scale acquisition of forest land for mining would have to be linked to a forest restoration programme through appropriate land reclamation, top-soil build up and plantation. A land reclamation programme has been drawn up to cover 625 hectares to the year 2000. In addition, compensatory afforestation would be carried out on degraded forest land within the mining area.

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