It will advise on, plan and monitor mitigation measures taken by coal companies to minimise environmental impact of mining
The Ministry of Coal will set up a sustainable development cell to aid “environmentally sustainable coal mining in the country” and also to address concerns around mine closures, a statement issued by it on December 15, 2019, said.
The cell will advise on, plan and monitor mitigation measures taken by coal companies in order to minimise the environmental impact of mining, according to the statement. It will also develop the policy framework of environmental mitigation, including mine closure.
The decision comes a month after Union Minister for Coal and Mines, Prahlad Joshi, stated that the country was looking at increasing coal production to meet its energy demands. He also made a suggestion that Coal India must look to align with the Jal Shakti Abhiyan for providing treated mine water to the people around.
The sustainable development cell (SDC) will comprise expert individuals and organisations to advice and plan on issues of land amelioration and afforestation, air, water and noise pollution management, mine water and overburden management, planning and monitoring of mine closure plans etc.
“The SDC will adopt a systemic approach, starting from the collection and analysis of data, presentation of information, planning based on information by domain experts, adoption of best practices, consultations, innovative thinking, site-specific approaches, knowledge sharing and dissemination,” the ministry statement said.
More specifically, through GIS mapping and data analysis, the cell will help coal companies comply with their environmental mandate, and identify areas for plantation as well as the species that can be planted, in keeping with improving carbon sinks for better climate change management. It will help companies plan for rehabilitation along with possibilites for creation of townships, agriculture, renewable energy farms etc.
The cell will also advice companies on pollution mitigation measures, management and treatment of mine pit water for water supply in the adjoining areas. Importantly, it will work to make mine closure plans effective and time-bound and monitor the utilisation of mine closure fund and environment budgets of coal companies.
Since India is looking at increasing coal production to meet the energy requirements of the country, it is imperative that mines are managed well, say experts. Coal mines are known to be one of the most polluting, as most of them are open-cast mines.
For instance, a recent CAG report found the environmental impact mitigation measures of Coal India wanting over all counts, from air pollution to water, soil and land management etc. Also, transportation of coal is also known to be polluting due to lack of preventive measures being followed by the companies and transport operators.
“Having a dedicated cell to look at compliance to environmental obligations might help improve these conditions, if the expertise is developed well and the mandate enforced properly. This is because shortage of human resources has been a major deterrent in ensuring compliance and monitoring,” Srestha Banerjee, programme manager at New Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment, said.
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