A new revenue sharing agreement will see the Indian government’s Singareni Collieries Company (SCCL) start developing up to eight underground coal mines with contract miners. The projects are set to see SCCL’s total coal production increase to 53 million tonnes during the next decade.

“We have already started work on two underground mines. Underground mines account for 21% of our total production which we plan to increase to 30% over the next two years,” says SCCL’s chairperson S Narsing Rao.

As India’s second largest coal miner, SCCL operates 13 open cut and 42 underground mines in the country’s southern Godavari River Valley region. This district is estimated to host coal resources of 8.8 billion tonnes along a 350km belt. SCCL produces 50 million tonnes of coal each year.

The company is concerned about the profitability of its underground operations, with the average cost of production almost three times that of the open cut mines. “Our endeavour remains to increase profitability from underground mines,” says S Narsing Rao.

“Greater adoption of longwall technology in our new projects should improve profitability for underground coal mining.”

The use of longwall mining in India received criticism after the collapse of the heavy-duty longwall installations at Churcha West mines in 1989 and the Kottadih mine in 1997.

However, SCCL says 21% of its production comes from underground mines compared to a national average of 11%, and the company has started work on the introduction of Asia’s largest longwall project at its Adriyala and Kakatiyakhani coal blocks – which have a total annual capacity of 5.5 million tonnes.