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Coal mining: Land degradation and reclamation status in India

Dr. Pulak Das

HSE Coordinator, Geopetrol Int. Inc.,


Mining has been defined as the removal of minerals from the earth’s crust in the service of humans (Down & Stock 1978).
Mining and industrialization play an important role in national economy. Mining industry in India, second largest to
agriculture, is one of the largest providers of employment and accounted for about 2.3% of the total GDP. India produces
64 minerals and the distribution value of mineral production in the year 2000-2001 shows that fuel accounts for about 83%
(solid fuels 37% and liquid/gaseous 46%), metallic minerals about 7%, non-metallic minerals about 3% and remaining by
minor minerals.
The coal resources of India are available in sedimentary rocks of older Gondwana Formations of peninsular India
and younger Tertiary formations of north-eastern/northern hilly region. Coal remains the primary source of energy,
accounting for about 80% of total energy generation in the country. Relatively clean, underground mines occupied more
than 70% share of coal extraction before nationalization. Gradually, more
and more open cast mines were opened to balance the demand/supply ratio Sectoral use of coal in India
and at present, they dominate with 80% share. In India 55%, of energy need
is fulfilled by coal. Out of total mining, 80% is only done for coal while
remaining 20% is for other raw materials such as gold, copper, iron, lead, Power,
bauxite, zinc and uranium. For electricity generation in India, coal has been 72%
recognized as the most important source of energy. The coal reserves of
India up to the depth of 1200 m have been estimated by the Geological Others,
Survey of India at 267.21 billion tonnes as on April 1, 2009 of which 106 19%
billion tonnes are proven. Hard coal deposits spread over 27 major coalfields
are mainly confined to eastern and south central parts of India. Cement,
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy 4% Steel,
Outlook’s business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, India and China presently 5%
account for 45 percent of world coal use and will be responsible for over
three-quarters of the increase by 2030. Coal remains India’s most important
fuel and predominantly used to generate electricity. Coal’s share in power generation is predicted to increase from today’s
69 percent to 71 percent by 2030.

History of coal mining

The first published reference to the mining of coal in India dates back to the year 1774 (Gee 1940), during the time of
Warren Hastings, when permission to work coal mines in Bengal was accorded to JohnSumner and Suetonius Grant
Heatly (M/s Sumner and Heatly of East India Company). The first two mining areas were Aitura (Ethora) at Chinakuri near
Damodar River and Damulia
(Nega Raniganj seam), also
near Damodar. 600
The foundation for Coal production in India in last 150 years
Coal produciton (million tonne)

mass coal production in India 500

was laid in 1886, when the r = 0.735 478.18
Hyderabad Deccan
Company was incorporated
to exploit coal in Yellanadi
area in Andhra Pradesh. The 300 300
company was later renamed
as SCCL and brought under 200
Government control in 1945.
For about a century after 100 70
mining in Bengal the growth 29 33 55.67
1 6.12
of Indian coal mining 18 30
remained sluggish for lack of 0
1850 1870 1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 2010
demand. Introduction of steam locomotives in 1853 increased the production in an exponential manner. Within a short
span, production rose to an annual average of 1 million tonne (mt) and by 1900 it reached 6.12 mts. The production got a
sudden boost from the First World War and reached 30 mts by 1946. The production rose to 70 mts, 300 mts, and
ultimately to 478.18 mts in 1970, 1999, and 2007 respectively. Setting up of the National Coal Development Corporation
(NCDC), a Government of India Undertaking in 1956 with the collieries owned by the railways as its nucleus was the first
major step towards planned development of Indian Coal Industry along with the Singareni Collieries Company Ltd.
(SCCL) which was already in operation since 1945 and which became a Government company under the control of
Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1956. The nationalization of coal mines was done in two phases, the first with the
coking coal mines in 1971-72 and then with the non-coking coal mines in 1973.

Type of coal mining

Coal is extracted either through underground mining or surface mining, also known as opencast mining. When coal seams
are near the surface, the coal is extracted using open cut or open cast mining methods. In this mining method, explosives
are first use in order to break through the surface of the mining area. The coal is then removed by draglines or by shovel
and truck. Some coal seams are too deep underground for opencast mining and require underground mining, which
method currently accounts for about 60% of world coal production. In deep mining, the room and pillar or board and pillar
method progresses along the seam, while pillars and timber are left standing to support the mine roof.
Some of the specified techniques being used earlier and at present in India are as follows:
• Mechanised opencast mining (for extraction of thick seams at shallow depth).
• Bord and Pillar method of underground mining (manual).
• Blasting Gallery and Cable Bolting
• Continuous minor technology (for 60% to 70% extraction )
• Long wall mining technology (for 70% to 80% recovery)
• Sand stowing method (for coal seams lying below built up areas)

Coal resource

There are more than 800 coal mines in India. It occupies 3rd position in the world in the field of coal production. As a
result of exploration carried out up to the maximum depth of 1200m by the GSI, CMPDI and MECL etc, a cumulative total
of 267.21 Billion tonnes of Geological Resources of Coal have so far been estimated in the country as on 1.4.2009.

Coal reserves in different states of India as on 2009


80000 Proved

70000 Inferred
Reserve (million tonne)





































Uttar Pradesh



West Bengal


Raniganj coal belt is an important coalfield located in Damodar river valley.
Ranigunj Coalfields covers an area of 1530 sq km spreading over Burdwan, Coal
Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia Districts in West Bengal and Dhanbad District in deposits in
Jharkhand. India
The lignite reserves in India are estimated at around 36 billion tonnes, of
which 90% occur in the southern State of Tamil Nadu. 4150 million tonnes (mt)
spread over 480 sq km is in the Neyveli Lignite fields in Cuddalore District of which
around 2360 Mt have been proved. Geological reserves of about 1168 mof lignite
have been identified in Jayamkondacholapuram of Trichy District of Tamilnadu. In
Mannargudi and East of Veeranam, geological reserves of around 22661.62 Mt and
1342.45 mt of lignite have been estimated respectively. Other states where lignite
deposits have been located are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir
and Union Territory of Pondicherry. As on 01.04.2007, lignite reserves in the
country have been estimated at around 38.76 billion tonnes, most of which, occur in
Tamilnadu. Other states where lignite deposits have been located are Rajasthan,
Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Pondicherry.

270000 Coal resource of India
265000 (Total of Proved, Indicated, and Inferred)
Million tonnes

255000 257381
250000 253301
245000 245693
240000 240748

235000 234114
1.1.2002 1.1.2003 1.1.2004 1.1.2005 1.1.2006 1.1.2007 1.4.2007 1.4.2008 1.4.2009
As on


Area acquired till Dec 2006

180000 ECL- Eastern Coalfields Limited; BCCL- Bharat Coking Coal Limited;
160000 CCL- Central Coalfields Limited; WCL- Western Coalfields Limited;
SECL- South Eastern Coalfields Limited; MCL- Mahanadi Coalfields
Limited; NCL- Northern Coalfields Limited

80000 61517.34
35844.06 38157.87
40000 22149.78
20000 6008 1182.46
Issue of land degradation

As defined by UNEP (1992) land degradation is “the temporary or permanent lowering of the productive capacity of land”.
The soil is a very complex medium which displays a great diversity in physical appearance, in chemical process, and in
the flora and fauna present. The role of soil is of vital importance to mankind and the maintenance of a healthy natural
environment. The soil is a natural resource, which is not renewable in the short term and very expensive either to reclaim
or to improve once it is eroded by water or wind, physically degraded or chemically depleted (Oldeman 1998).
The increasing human need for mineral resources is likely to accelerate further degradation of natural habitats, as
most of the mining areas are on the land which was previously occupied by forests. In removing the desired mineral
material the vegetation above is destroyed and the soil is lost or buried by waste, ultimately leading to complete absence
of soil in either pedological of biological sense leaving behind a ‘skeleton of soil’ with full of limiting factors (Bradshaw
1983). As a result of mining and coal combustion, significant areas of land are degraded and existing ecosystems are
replaced by undesirable waste materials in the form of dumps, tailing dams and ash dams (Piha et al 1995). According to
Corbett et al. (1996) the mineral extraction process drastically alters the physical and biological nature of a mined area.
Strip-mining, commonly practiced to recover coal reserves, destroys vegetation, causes extensive soil damage and
destruction and alters microbial communities. The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) opines that surface mining may result in
constant decline of green and cultivable areas which is by way of blockage of land for mining and allied activities. As
estimated by IBM, this degradation is to the tune of 60% by waste dumping, 23% by pit excavation and 17% by others
(Singh et al. 2007). The dumping of mine tailings and other reject materials (referred to as overburden, OB) generated
from opencast coal or metal mines is considered as a major contributor to the ecological and environmental degradation.
OB materials are nutrient-poor, loosely adhered particles of shale, stones, boulders, cobbles, and so forth and are devoid
of true soil character. Mine OB materials also contain elevated concentrations of trace metals. Consequently, ecological
succession in a mine OB is a lengthy process (Dowarah et al. 2009).
. Un-reclaimed or poorly reclaimed lands are often barren, because problematic soil material left on the surface
after mining would not support plant growth (Sutton & Dick 1987). This creates problems, as waste dumps can be
unsightly and subject to erosion and leaching if left un-vegetated. There is an urgent need to reclaim and restore the
mined out land for its productive use for sustainable development of the coal mining. This will not only mitigate
environmental degradation, but would help in creating a more congenial environment for land acquisition in future.

Land degradation in India

All human activities are based on the land which is most scarce natural resource in our country. Per capita land availability
in India is the lowest owing to high population density and less land mass. Out of total 329 million hectare (mha) land
mass of the country, coal mining is limited to only on 0.10% (0.36mha) area. As per XI Plan, to meet the energy demand
of the country, coal production would be raised to 680 million tones by the end of the year 2011-2012 for which about
40,000 hectare of land would have to be acquired for coal mining projects. It has been envisaged that 85% coal
production would be from opencast mines, which causes land degradation due to ground breaking.
India's total land area is 3.29 million sq km, and within this, 20.16% of the total geographical area is occupied by
the degraded land (Kiran et al. 2009). About 0.45 % of the total (about 16,000 sq km) is coal-bearing. Of this coal-bearing
area, the active coal-mining area is about 2,500 sq km. Underground production of coal peaked in the late 1970s, and has
gradually declined since. Surface mining, on the other hand, has gone up from l6 million tonnes per annum (tpa) to 160
million tpa. According to a financial daily ‘Business Line’ (Internet edition, July 5, 2000) as much as 1,40,771 hectares of
the total coal area is under surface mining. Additionally, 57,000 hectares of land will be required, of which 13,000 hectares
are in forestland. According to Kundu and Ghose (1997), by 2000 about 60 km of land per year were damaged by direct
coal mines and 75 km per year were affected by external overburden dumps and topsoil dumps in India. Excessive
underground mining, especially of coal, is causing subsidence of land in many areas as a result of which such lands have
been rendered unsafe for habitation, agriculture and grazing. In 1980´s the coal mining industry became identified as a
major cause of damage to the environment, with more than 80 sq. kms. of land being destroyed every year. Damage to
land can also result from underground and stockyard fires in coal mining areas.

Land reclamation

In the majority of cases, reclamation of abandoned mineral workings requires the establishment and maintenance of
vegetation on disturbed land. No other medium can achieve rapid visual integration, surface stabilization, or reduction in
air and water pollution, nor offer a wide variety of land-use possibilities, which can be achieved at acceptable cost. Based
on several ecosystem restoration studies, A. D. Bradshaw, the pioneer restoration ecologist, concluded that vegetation is
the most appropriate and cost effective long- term remedy to encounter the majority of underlying problems of derelict-
mined land. Ecological restoration (ER) is the process of repairing damage caused by humans to the diversity and
dynamics of indigenous ecosystems. ER implies that we wish to restore organisms and their interactions with one another
and with the physical environment. It concentrates on processes such as persistence of species through natural
recruitment and survival, functioning food webs, system-wide nutrient conservation via relationships among plants,
animals and the detrivore (who eats waste material) community. The goal of restoration is usually to develop a long-term
sustainable ecosystem native to the area where mining occurred. Restoration (= rehabilitation) aims to return the
degraded system to some form of cover that is protective, productive, aesthetically pleasing, or valuable in the sense of
Revegetation of mined out areas is often difficult due to its chemical and physical traits. Absence of topsoil is the
most common feature of the mine spoils or dumps. If present, it is very poor in nitrogen, which is essential for plant
growth. This is due to the absence of soil organic matter provided by decay of dead plant material. Moreover, dearth of
soil micro flora restricts the decay of plant material. In addition, the stony nature of mine wastes aggravates the situation
further for vegetation establishment by developing low infiltration rates and water retention. Since the progress of natural
vegetation process is very slow on mine spoils, selective plantation of suitable native species is desired in most cases. In
common practice, mining engineers, generally unguided by any ecological principle prefer to establish some greenery on
wasteland. However, the development of a permanent vegetation cover should aim to establish a plant community that
will maintain itself indefinitely without attention or artificial aid, and support native fauna. To extract better results, some
ecological variables must be considered while selecting species for plantation. These are; their capacity to stabilize soil,
increases soil organic matter and available soil nutrients, and facilitate under storey development. In the initial stages of
revegetation quick growing grasses with short life cycle, legumes and forage crops are recommended. It will improve the
nutrient and organic matter content in soil. Plantation of mixed species of economic importance should be done after 2-3
years of growing grasses. Work is going on in this field and experts are providing different solutions based upon the
situation. Addition of organic wastes has been found to increase N fertility at a surface coal mine reclamation site, which
ultimately stimulates microbial activity and improves the chemical and physical properties of the reclaimed soil (Coyne et
al. 1998). Direct seeding of native species has proved a most useful and cost-effective restoration method (Pandey 1996,
1998). This can be avoided by opting for direct sowing. Direct sowing is also advantageous as it is comparatively easier to
maintain the species mix than in a plantation (Pandey 2002). As suggested by Singh et al. (2007), assessment of pre-
mining land use of the area and surroundings, and of the pre-mining surface drainage pattern is an important step for and
comprehensive land reclamation and land use planning. Use of medicinal plants for reclaiming degraded land is also a
good option (Kiran et al. 2009). Pandey (2002) argues that to restore mine overburden, a broader vision that incorporates
holistic science and policy is called for. Sustainable science is required to address the imperilled nature–society
interactions as well as to construct a selfsustaining functional ecosystem capable of supporting biodiversity, performing
ecosystem functioning and providing ecosystem services to society. He suggested a holistic strategy for restoration of
mine-spoil including the following: (i) Policy measures and incentive mechanism to store fertile top-soil layer for use in
postmining restoration operation, (ii) protection to adjacent refugia, remnant vegetation and ancient trees, (iii) attracting
seed dispersers, (iv) rainwater harvesting, (v) assisted soil remediation through addition of pond-bed silt and sediment as
well as earthworm, (vi) assistance to available persistent rootstock, if any, (vii) direct seeding, (viii) vegetative cutting, and
(ix) plantations.

Techniques employed in India

In India, the amount of mine OB wasteland generated due to opencast coal mining is enormous (Dowarah et al. 2009).
This necessitates initiation of restoration of the degraded environment. According to WWF report, in India, mining land is
frequently left in an abused state, in unclosed or abandoned mines. Considering the severe consequences of mining for
communities and local environments, it is essential that steps be taken to reduce degradation of land. Although land
reclamation is presently not a priority in India there are many success stories of ecorestoration in India (Tiwary 2001; Pal
2003; Ghose 2004; Maiti 2007; Juwarkar and Jumbalkar 2008), and around the world (Cunningham and Berti 1993;
Mendez and Maier 2008; Gonzalez and Gonzalez-Chavez 2006; Wong 2003), and World wide there has been a
tremendous upsurge in restoration as a technique for reversing habitat degradation worldwide.
Centre for Applied Research & Development (CARD) is the in house R&D Centre of Neyveli Lignite Corporation
and has been recognized by the Department of Science & Technology since 1975. CARD is carrying out various research
works on wasteland reclamation etc. CARD is also carrying out various environmental Survey and ecological conservation
of Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) environment through bioremediation with tree species (Approved Cost Rs.77.01
Lakhs.). It is also proposed to study phyto-remediation efficiency of the existing green belt of NLC to air borne
Contaminants and soil borne contaminants. The Project commenced on 01-05-2007 with project duration of three years.
Preliminary discussions were held and Research staffs recruited under the project were given orientation training. Survey
for fixing thirty two sampling locations and four to five tree species in each location, using GPS, has been completed. In
Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) a project was carried out to characterize and evaluate bottom slag as a source of
Sulphur and iron to crops and bio dissolution studies. It was also envisaged to develop methods to use bottom slag as a
source of Sulphur to crops in Sulphur deficient soils and as a source of Iron to sugarcane in calcareous iron deficient soils.
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) has also conducted field trials with bottom slag in farmer’s field at Trichy,
Vridhachallam, Villupuram, Erode and Coimbatore on paddy, sugarcane, groundnut, sunflower etc and found to be
The projects related to land degradation which are under implementation are transforming NLC mine spoils into
productive agricultural land through ecofriendly integrated farming system. (NLC and TNAU / Coimbatore), and pilot
studies on the stabilization, revegetation and restoration of ecology in NLC mine slopes. (NLC and TNAU/Coimbatore). In
Jharia coal fields, existing plantation programmes and social forestry programmes are encouraged. Plantation work in 278
hectare of degraded land has been done at Lodna, Bhowrah, Sijua, Govindpur and Barora areas (approx 6.95 lakhs
saplings have been planted). The work has been completed and completion report is awaited. Plantation is started in 125
Ha in this year. The Subsidiaries of CIL have been undertaking development of Green belts. The plantation is done on
waste and reclaimed land. During 2006-2007 the Coal Companies have planted 24.90 Lakh trees. During 2006-07, SCCL
has taken up planting in 252 Ha on overburden dump, 275 Ha of the planting on the surface area of UG mines and 24 KM
of avenue plantation. In addition, 56782 seedlings of horticulture and afforestation species are distributed for planting in
colonies, homesteads and institutions. In addition 27 parks and 98 gardens are maintained in the company promises for
providing clean, green working and living environment for all. A project was initiated in 2005-06 by Bhagalpur University
for Reclamation of mining wastelands and restoration of native vegetation through microbial technology in Rajmahal
Coalfields. Ledo Valley Recreation Center (LVRC) an Eco-park in NEC is a reclaimed mine in the leasehold of Ledo
Colliery of NEC. The production of mine was stopped in 1986 and its reclamation work started in 1987. Spread over an
area of 21 hectares it has over 40 species of plants and home to many migratory birds. The plantation and conservation of
lakes forms an ideal ecological balance in the area.
Central Mine Planning & Design Institute (CMPDI) Ranchi a subsidiary of CIL has a well equipped remote sensing
facilities and capabilities to develop an effective system of surveillance for land reclamation/restoration for all the opencast
coal mines. It is the executive agency for satellite surveillance of land reclamation operations. 171 open cast coal projects
have been identified for surveillance out of which 49 projects will be monitored once a year while the remaining 122
projects will be monitored once every three years. As of 2009 45 projects have been covered. CMPDI undertook five
projects of land reclamation of South Eastern Coalfields Ltd.; Dipka, Gevra, Manikpur, Dhanpuri, and Dugga in year 2008.
Five opencast projects of SECL taken up for land restoration/reclamation monitoring based on the RESOURCESAT-1
satellite data using ERDAS Imaging digital image processing s/w in GIS platform. Land reclamation monitoring will be
carried out regularly on annual basis to assess the progressive status of land restoration/reclamation in the above
opencast mines. Out of the above five projects, land use map for Gevra, Dipka, and Manikpur were also prepared during
year 2003 which was used for the comparison. Following figure (CMPDI 2008) shows the status of land use with the
jurisdiction of the company in year 2008 and the subsequent table shows the increase in area.
ComparisonDipika Gevra
of mining area, vegetation, and wasteland in 5 projects of SECL as on 2008

Dipka Gevra
26% Vegetation
Vegetation 40%
Mining area
Mining area
Wasteland 42%
Manikpur Dhanpuri

23% 0%
33% Vegetation Vegetation
Mining area Mining area

Wasteland Wasteland

41% Vegetation
Mining area
58% Wasteland

The study reveals that 61% of mined out area in the above mentioned projects have been reclaimed by (South Eastern
Coalfields Limited) SECL and balance 39% area is under active mining zone
Area (km ) in two different years and % increase

Project 2003 2008 % Increase

Plantation 0.56 2.67 376.79
Vegetation 3.66 6.17 68.58

Plantation 2.43 6.08 150.21
Vegetation 4.26 11.21 163.15

Plantation 2.11 2.18 3.32
Vegetation 6.5 6.83 5.08

It is observed that Dipka area showed an increase of over 376% in the plantation cover in five years, and Gevra shows an
increase in 150% in plantation and about 163% increase in vegetation. Manikpur area showed very less increase (about 3
and 5 %) respectively in plantation and vegetation cover as compared to other two areas.

Mining operations, which involve minerals extraction from the earth’s crust tends to, make a notable impact on the
environment, landscape and biological communities of the earth (Down & Stocks, 1997 and Bell et al. 2001). It can be
said that the land restoration/reclamation is an unseparale part of the coal mining. It is important to save our precious, but
scarce land resource. This is more important in context of rapid increase in population. The land degradation is a chain
event which once triggered and if not prevented in time, leads to many related environmental and socioeconomic
problems. The issue of land reclamation should be incorporated in the planning phase itself with sufficient financial
allocation. It is an irony that the Coal industry (CIL) which is one of the 5 largest companies (2003-2004) with respect to
turn over, largest company in the world in terms of coal production, is placed under the red category, meaning it is in the
top bracket of environmental degradation (Chaoji 2002). As said earlier, there are numerous success stories around the
world and also in India regarding the reclamation of degraded land. We can convert the waste into resource by reclaiming
the degraded land and use it for plantation (of cash generating crops for e.g. medicinal plants), rehabilitation of the native
displaced people (who will love to come back to their land), and intensive afforestation program etc.


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