The government has seized close to 25,000 tonnes of coal from illegal miners across the country during the last three years as a part of a crackdown on politically influential lobbies that eat away the precious resource.
In the process, it is on a drive to generate jobs near collieries to prevent the diversion of workers to illegal mining. Officials, who did not wish to be identified, told Hindustan Times that large scale unemployment, a high density population in areas around the coal fields and the presence of "influential persons" and "coal mafias" under whose patronage local people carry out the "mischief" are the primary reasons for illegal mining activity.
"Illegal mining of coal is continuing in the coal fields of eastern region, particularly in the states of West Bengal and Jharkhand, despite several steps including seizure operations and this is a matter of concern," an official said.
Illegal mining is carried out either by extraction of coal without obtaining a valid mining lease from the government or by mining in areas outside lease-hold areas of coal companies.
While officials maintained that it was not possible to exactly specify the quantity of coal mined by illegal mining, the volume of coal seized from such miners has seen a significant increase during the last three years.
Mining of these deposits by forming cooperatives comprising persons who are actually involved in illegal mining was considered as an alternative. Officials, however, pointed out that coal companies, particularly Coal India Limited (CIL), were not in favour of such a move because of safety considerations.
"It has been argued by some that we should adopt a cooperative mining model similar to that of China. Coal companies, however, point out that this cannot be the right solution in the backdrop of rising accidents affecting workers. Generally, illegal mining activity occurs at a shallow depth and does not penetrate far below the ground. Developing such small areas scientifically in a planned way is impractical," an official said.
Energy analysts say that China is in the process of closing down such mines to bring down high accident rates and has closed down nearly 60,000 such mines in the last 10 years.
Officials said the Jharkhand government has commissioned a study by Jamshedpur-based XLRI (Xavier Labour Research Institute) and the Dhanbad-based Indian School of Mines to suggest measures to address the issue that has major socio-economic concerns.