In an attempt towards environmental sustainability and reducing over mining of sand, Coal India Limited (CIL) has started a facility in West Bengal to produce manufactured sand, the first such initiative in the State.
The manufactured sand is being produced, an estimated 3 lakh cubic metre per year, in the Kajora area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL), a subsidiary of CIL, from overburden material of open cast mines. Set up through private participation, the M Sand facility has started operations since September 2022.
Sand is one of the major geological resources of the country and M sand is a form of artificial sand manufactured by crushing large hard stones into fine particles. “Conversion of overburden material into sand is a step to ensure environmental sustainability. Coal India Limited is committed to the cause of green mining.” B. Veera Reddy, Director (Technical) of CIL said. The M sand produced will be used fully for captive purposes of ECL.
According to sources, ECL needs 12 lakh cubic metre per year sand for stowing (sand filling mined out portions) purposes in its underground mines. M Sand will, therefore, meet 25% of the sand requirement of ECL, bringing home immediate savings of an estimated ₹6 crore per year.
CIL forayed into OB (overburden)-to-sand manufacturing through a small pilot project at Nagpur-based Western Coalfields (WCL), a few years ago. PSU officials said that overwhelmed by the project’s success , a second facility was established in WCL in 2021. At 6.10 lakh cubic metre per year production capacity, this is the largest such facility in India.
With the West Bengal facility, the CIL’s total M Sand producing capacity stands at 9.86 lakh cubic metre per year. According to the company, six more M Sand projects of a combined capacity of 19.80 lakh cubic metre per year are under implementation. Of them, the 3.05 lakh cubic metre per year facility at Amlohri under Madhya Pradesh-headquartered Northern Coalfields (NCL), is scheduled to be on stream in the fourth quarter of 2022-23.
The CIL’S decision to manufacture sand is a step towards sustainability particularly when illegal mining from riverbeds and riverbanks have adverse affect on river morphology.
A publication by the Ministry of Mines titled ‘Sand Mining Framework’ in the year 2018 points out that the total sand consumption in India was around 700 million tonnes in 2016-17 and it is increasing by 6-7% annually.
Illegal mining of sand from the riverbeds and riverbanks is rampant across several districts in north and south West Bengal. It operates through a nexus between the sand mafia, local politicians and administration.
In July 2021, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that her government will come up with a centralised sand mining policy for the auction of sand quarries. However, environmentalists and river experts point out that not much has changed.