Coal India may use drones to check illegal mining and pilferage

KOLKATA: Coal India (CIL) plans to check illegal mining and pilferage with the use of drones, which it has tested in a pilot project.

Its exploration arm, Central Mine Planning & Design Institute, recently tied up with Centre for Aerospace Research, Anna University of Chennai, for drone technology.

“A pilot project was undertaken at Coal India subsidiary, Central Coalfields’ Topa Mine where drones successfully tracked sources of illegal mining as well as the route being followed by them to take away pilfered coal,” a Coal India executive told ET.

“In a recent meeting with CMPDI executives, secretary coal directed for implementation of drone technology in identified 35 top coal producing mines of Coal India with a focus on prevention of illegal mining activities, land reclamation monitoring. It was further directed to identify other applicable areas for drone technology,” he said.

The executive said the number of drones for each subsidiary of Coal India would depend on their command area and surveillance drones are not too costly and can capture such data successfully. For example, Bharat Coking Coal (BCCL) may require two, while South Eastern Coalfields may require more, he said. At present, CIL is using drones for survey of blocks and for preparing mining and expansion plans, he said. Small operators steal coal from operating and abandoned mines, carry them in cycles and bullock carts to a central location where it is sold at a throwaway price. The coal collected there is then loaded on trucks and a large volume of this coal finds its way to the coal mandis where it is sold at half of Coal India’s notified price.

Coal from mines allotted in the past but taken back by the government is also pilfered. “Here dumper, shovels and pay-loaders are being used on a large-scale to illegally mine coal,” a coal sector official said.

There are no comprehensive study on illegal mining, but a study by Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in 2000 showed that brick kilns used 22 million tonnes of coal while Coal India could have supplied only 2 million tonnes.

“E-auction was introduced with the aim of cutting down on the illegal market,” former Coal India chairman Partha Bhattacharyya said.

“It has reduced the market to some extent but could not wipe it out.”

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