Coal India using space technology to curb pilferage and illegal mining

After surpassing coal output of 600 million tonne (mt) last fiscal, state-owned Coal India is banking on space technology and mobile apps to control pilferage and illegal mining.

The company has come up with the Coal Mining Surveillance & Management System (CMSMS) portal, developed by the coal ministry in coordination with Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Application and Geo-informatics and the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology. 

Under the CMSES framework, the maps of the coal blocks and coalfield boundaries have been geo-referenced and superimposed on the latest satellite remote sensing images. The system can scan a region of 100 meters around the existing coalfield boundary to identify any unusual activity that may be illegal coal mining. All such identified activities are deemed suspicious and a trigger is generated with a reference number.

These triggers are studied by specialist groups identified by the coal ministry and then transmitted to the concerned nodal officials for field verification. A check for illegality in operationm which is conducted and reported back to the system, can be traced against the reference number initially assigned to it.

A source says there are two ways in which illegal coal mining can be reported to the CMSMS - through periodic satellite imaging, as stated above; and through the Khan Prahari app. Most company executives are equipped with the latter on their cellphones and can take geo-tagged photographs of any suspected incident, alongwith any textual information, and report it directly to the CMSMS via the same app.

In the recent past, a company official said that Coal India was able to identify an incident of pilferage in the Eastern Coalfields area with the help of CMSMS.

These triggers are studied by specialist groups identified by the coal ministry and the result is transmitted to the concerned nodal officials for field verification. A manual check is then conducted and reported back to the system. 

The complaint originating from coal mines allotted to Coal India are reported straightaway to this Maharatna company while those originating from coal blocks not allotted to Coal India are fed directly to the state government officers in the states where the mine is located. Besides, for each complaint an alert is also sent to the district magistrate and the police of the district.

The CMSMS is also designed to provide other important information like reclamation work which is being monitored by CMPDI – a Coal India subsidiary, using satellite data. The status of environmental and forest clearances are also linked for information in this system. 

Although no official account of estimated pilferage could be cited, sources projected it is one per cent of the total despatch. In the last fiscal year, a percentage of the offtake translates into 6.8 mt.

Considering an average per tonne to cost Rs 1,334 for the consumer (Coal India’s FSA rate in the December quarter last fiscal year), 6.8 mt translates into a loss of around Rs 907.12 crore. 

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