Looking at Good Times
Looking at Good Times

Looking at Good Times

Underground mining in India is majorly done in minerals mining of copper, zinc, gold etc as these minerals are found deep under the earth. According to reports, zinc and copper outputs have grown in the past couple of years and the outlook remains good. There are also underground coal mines belonging to Coal India, however, the output is very low compared to surface or open-pit mines. However, new opportunities are evolving as the coal reserves in the upper layer are depleting and the mines are going deeper.

Current scenario
Recent reports indicate that Coal India was planning to outsource its underground mine development and operations. Coal India subsidiary, Central Mine Planning & Design Institute (CMPDIL), will soon invite tenders for appointing such operators for two new underground mines that aim to produce at least 5 million tonnes a year each. Coal India has firmed up plans to offer underground coal blocks to global mine developer and operators (MDOs) to extract coal efficiently and profitably. Currently, Coal India uses MDOs for open cast but underground mines are run by its own workforce. The Central Government's recent policy initiatives in mining, involving more private participation in commercial coal mining has put the public sector miner Coal India on fast track to make its mining process productive and efficient. These developments are expected to drive demand for underground mining technologies and equipment in the coming years.

Since underground mining is done deep inside the earth, it is involved with risk and economics. According to Shib Bhowmik, Managing Director, Komatsu Mining Corp, India, the choice and selection of underground mining is essentially a question of economics and other obstacles. If certain mineral deposits are situated at a certain depth/location then underground mining is the only choice. As far as the risk involved, he adds, "Underground mining involves different and increased geological risks, mining risks, working in constrained area, challenges in ventilation, adequate light, transportation of men and materials etc."

Equipment and technologies
Major equipment for underground mining are continuous miners, shuttle cars, feeder breakers and roof bolting equipment, jumbo drills, loaders, trucks, electric/battery haul loaders and trucks, digging arm loaders, etc. According to Bhowmik, for underground coal mining, continuous miner technology has proved to be flexible, productive and more suitable for Indian conditions. Typically for CM technology - continuous miner, shuttle cars/battery haulers, roof bolters and feeder breaker are used.

Monitoring and control technologies help in mitigating the risk involved in underground mining. Epiroc Mining in association with Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering has introduced Mobilaris Mining Intelligence product portfolio that takes digitalisation of mining operations to the next level. Hindustan Zinc has partnered up with Mobilaris Mining & Civil Engineering and Epiroc to digitalise the Rampura Agucha mine, their flagship of mining operations.

Looking ahead
As mentioned earlier, mining activities are expected to go to the next level in the coming years with the relaxation in the overall processes and approvals in mining policies. The involvement of more private players in mining can open up the entire mining practices and involve more technologies especially to improve the efficiency and productivity. This can also bring down pollution level that is a major issue in mining. Going forward, underground mining will definitely gain momentum with more underground coal mines and adoption of new equipment and technologies.

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