• Subodh Kumar Maiti


Coal mining industry in India plays a very important role in the country’s economy—more than 70% of the total power generated in the country is from coal, and considering the total energy requirement, coal contributes more than half. India’s coal consumption ranks third in the world, and the country’s demand for coal continues to grow much faster than the world average. The estimated recoverable reserve of coal and lignite is 101.9 billion tonnes (Bt), which is about 10% of the total world reserves (Table 1.1). As of 31.03.10, the estimated reserves of coal were around 277 Bt, an addition of 10 Bt over the last year. Coal deposits are mainly confined to eastern and south central parts of the country. The states of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh account for more than 99% of the total coal reserves in the country. If India has to sustain an 8–10% economic growth rate, over the next 25 years, to eradicate poverty and meet its human development goals, an increase in its primary energy supply by 3–4 times compared to the level of 2003–2004 is required.


Ecological Restoration Coal Production Waste Dump Mine Spoil Seed Mixture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

1.1 Importance of Coal Mining in India

Coal mining industry in India plays a very important role in the country’s economy—more than 70% of the total power generated in the country is from coal, and considering the total energy requirement, coal contributes more than half. India’s coal consumption ranks third in the world, and the country’s demand for coal continues to grow much faster than the world average. The estimated recoverable reserve of coal and lignite is 101.9 billion tonnes (Bt), which is about 10% of the total world reserves (Table 1.1). As of 31.03.10, the estimated reserves of coal were around 277 Bt, an addition of 10 Bt over the last year. Coal deposits are mainly confined to eastern and south central parts of the country. The states of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh account for more than 99% of the total coal reserves in the country. If India has to sustain an 8–10% economic growth rate, over the next 25 years, to eradicate poverty and meet its human development goals, an increase in its primary energy supply by 3–4 times compared to the level of 2003–2004 is required.
Table 1.1

World recoverable coal reserves (billion tonnes) (IEH 2011)





World total




United States
















Source: Expert Committee on Coal Reforms

aTotal proved ‘in place’ reserves instead of recoverable reserves relevant for other countries

The Integrated Energy Policy (IEP 2006) document formulated by Planning Commission (August 2006) has presented several alternative scenarios of energy mix to sustain a GDP growth at 8% until 2031–2032. The requirement of coal demand has been projected to 2,037 Mt (2031–2032) against the 627 Mt projected for the end of 2011–2012 (XI plan) (Table 1.2). However, the requirement of coal-based energy has been projected to vary from 1,022 Mtoe (2,555 Mt) for a coal-dominant scenario to 632 Mtoe (1,540 Mt) in the scenario considering utilisation of full potential of nuclear, hydro and renewable resources along with all energy conservation measures. Therefore, coal will remain a dominant source of energy in India up to 2031–2032 and possibly beyond (Chaudhuri 2008).
Table 1.2

Coal demand projections (million tonnes)

Plan period




XI 2011/2012




XII 2016/2017




XIII 2021/2022




XIV 2026/2027




XV 2031/2032




Source: Integrated Energy Policy (2006), Planning Commission

Share of coal production from surface mines was increased from less than 20% in 1973–1974 to a level of more than 80% during 2001–2002. As of 31.12.2010, there are 717 mining projects of CIL and 140 mining projects in SCCL. Of these, a few mines are of large planned capacities—such as Gevra (20 Mt), Jayant (10 Mt), Nigahi (14 Mt), Dadhichua (10 Mt) and Rajmahal (10.5 Mt). Unfortunately, a large number of small-capacity surface mines (producing 0.1–0.3 Mt per annum) are spread over in old coalfields posing a higher threat to the environment if proper corrective/controlling measures are not taken. However, for these smaller mines, effective environmental protection measures could not be adopted due to limited resources and other various reasons resulting in formation of large overburden (OB) dumps and huge voids at mining sites left as orphan land. Virtually all surface mining methods produce dramatic change in landscape due to large Indian coal sector poised to grow at a very fast rate in the near future due to steep increase in coal demand for the major reason of providing power to all by 2012. Total indigenous coal production is expected to grow from the current level of around 407 Mt (2005–2006) to around 1,086 Mt by 2024 as per the draft Coal Vision document.

The share of opencast production has increased from 26% (20.77 Mt) in 1974–1975 to 84.95% (345.79 Mt) in 2005–2006, whereas total underground production has declined from 74% (58.22 Mt) to 15.05% (61.25 Mt) in the same period. In the years 2006–2007, coal production was 430.83 Mt (terminal year of XI plan), out of which opencast contributed to around 373 Mt (87%) with an estimated overburden removal of 600 million m3. A long-term perspective of coal production and OB removal presented in the ‘Coal Vision 2025’ document of Ministry of Coal indicates a coal production 1,086 Mt of which 900 Mt will be from opencast operation. The corresponding OB removal figure is estimated at 2,700 Mm3. In 2009–2010, coal production was 533 Mt as compared to 493 Mt during 2008–2009, registering a growth of 8%. Even in the past 10 years, production figures indicate that OC production continues to rise year after year. It is estimated that at the end of terminal year of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2011–2012), the coal demand would be about 713 Mt, whereas the indigenous availability would be about 630 Mt. Therefore, there is likely to be a gap of 83 Mt, which is required to be met through imports (MOC 2011). Table 1.3 shows the technology-wise coal production since 1951.
Table 1.3

Technology-wise national coal production—past decade




Total production (Mt)

Production (Mt)

(%) Share

Production (Mt)

(%) Share












































































































































































For the last 10 years (2002–03 to 2011–12), lowest growth rate of 0.1% recorded in 2010–11; 1.4% in 2011–12 and highest growth rate of 8% recorded in 2009–10.

Source: Provisional Coal Statics 2011–2012. Coal Controller’s Organisation, MOC, GOI.

1.2 Opencast Coal Mining and Environmental Issues

  1. 1.

    Land degradation due to mining, deterioration of air quality, water pollution and siltation, loss of vegetation and driving out fauna, noise and vibration, reduction in aesthetics and rehabilitation of person are some of the major issues where mining industry has to take care.

  2. 2.

    One of the foremost components of the environment that have been severely damaged due to surface mining is ‘land’. In comparison to the other user, mining industry uses less than 0.25% (0.7 m ha) of the total land (329 m ha). However, land degradation cannot be considered as insignificant because subsequent environmental impacts do not restrict within the boundaries of mining lease hold areas.

  3. 3.

    The quantum jump in coal production from opencast operation and consequent OB removal will put significant stress on the environment on account of total removal of the soil cover and formation of waste dumps (20–30% of OB excavated to be placed in external waste dump), depletion of water tables, etc., in the mining areas. The total land requirement for mine operation, waste dumps and mine infrastructures are projected to increase from the level of 1,470 km2 (including a forest area of 730 km2) in 2006–2007 to 2925 km2 (including a forest area of 730 km2 in 2025) as per ‘Coal Vision 2025’ document.

  4. 4.

    Next to land, it is air quality, which is severely affected by mining activities. Increase in respirable particulate matter (RPM or PM10), suspended particulate matter (SPM) and settable dust (dust fall) is of great concern. Some of the impacts like damage to health (bronchitis, asthma, pneumoconiosis), soiling of material, aesthetic and loss of visibility need attention of the mining companies.

  5. 5.

    Deterioration in water quality particularly increase in suspended solids (SS), higher erosion from the barren areas during rain and deterioration of surface water sources due to dry deposition of dust are of major concern.

  6. 6.

    Near-total loss of vegetation and removal of topsoil result into creation of new habitat.


1.3 Land Degradation Due to Mining

In India, land degradation due to mining is inevitable as major coal deposits are under thick forest cover and more than 85% of coal is extracted by opencast method. Moreover, massive land degradation is unfortunately unavoidable due to localised deposit of minerals and geology of coal seams. In an old estimate (Business Line 2000), it has been reported that nearly 140,771 ha of land was covered under surface mining, and additionally, 57,000 ha of land was required of which 13,000 ha was under forest. The causes of land degradation during to mining are removal of vegetation cover and topsoil, excavation and dumping of overburden, subsidence, mine fire, etc. The overburden removal in Coal India alone increased from 500 million cubic metres (Mm3) in 2003–2004 to 682 Mm3 in 2009–2010 (CIL Report 2011).

Mine wasteland generally comprises the bare stripped area, loose soil piles, waste rock and overburden surfaces, subsided land areas, mine fire, etc. Overburden dumps created for the accommodation of mine waste have major effects on surrounding environment like deterioration of aesthetics and reduction in land productivity and complete destruction of landform (landscape) and habitat and act as continuous sources of dust pollution and water pollution and siltation.

Therefore, development of vegetation cover is essential on these dumps and other denuded areas to stabilise the dumps and minimise pollution and improve visual aesthetics to the surrounding population.

However, these newly created man-made habitats posses wide ranges of problems for establishing and maintaining vegetation cover, due to adverse physico-chemical and physico-mechanical properties. For example, in acidic dumps (which is common), along with elevated metal concentration, other adverse factors like high stone content, lack of moisture, higher compaction, shortage of soil-forming materials and organic matter also cause problems (Maiti 2003). Lastly, out of all alternatives, development of vegetation cover is the cheapest and easiest options, but one has to ensure that vegetation cover is self-sustained in long term. There are several process by which self-sustaining vegetation cover could be developed in mine-degraded land, starting from careful design of slope to selection of tree species (that spread and reproduce under severe conditions), human assistance (soil ameliorant, mulching, geo-netting of the area) and proper maintenance (Maiti 2010). In the impoverished site, sometimes exotic trees are chosen over native species for reclamation needs, so careful consideration is to be given before selection of exotic species. Hence, preference is always given for native species that are well adapted to the local environment they are most likely to fit into a fully functional ecosystem.

1.4 Current Ecorestoration Scenario in India

The ecorestoration of coal mine overburden (OB) dumps in developed countries is done by application of topsoil cover and liming. Topsoil is used to cover poor substrates and to improve growing condition of plants, whilst liming is used to ameliorate soil pH. In India, topsoil is scarce commodity, and in majority of the cases, it was generally not stored properly. Of late, in limited cases, topsoil is removed and concurrently used as cover material or stored and reused as required by legislative directives. In case topsoil is not available in mine site, it is borrowed from nearby areas.

As restoration is limited to planting tree species, it never spreads in the entire area of reclaimed site, rather it poured only in the plantation pit. Liming is yet to be practised for pH correction. It is recommended that ecorestoration of dump should be considered as a part of natural succession process, and it should be started with sowing of seeds of legumes, grasses, herbs and shrubs along with tree plantation. This concept has not become popular with coal mining industry because plantation is mostly done by State Forest Department and charges are calculated on the basis of trees that survived after 3 years. Sometimes OB dumps are acidic in nature (pH 4–5) which not only cause elevated metal concentration to the plant but also decrease microbial activity inhibiting soil organic matter decomposition and nitrogen mineralisation process. Acidic dumps are being restored by the principle of phytostabilisation. The normal practice is to choose drought-resistant, fast-growing trees which can grow in acidic, nutrient-deficient, elevated metal-contaminated soils. The effort should be aimed at finding out restoration success of nutrient-poor acidic overburden dumps with liming, improvement of organic carbon, N and P status and reducing bioavailability of heavy metals due to elevated acidity.

1.5 Differences Between Natural Soil and Minesoil (Mine Spoil)

The spoil is characteristically different from soil in the following reasons:
  • Undisturbed soils generally exhibit well-developed structure in the upper horizon, whilst mine spoils show little or no soil structure throughout their profile.

  • Higher bulk density, lower porosity, lower permeability, sometimes higher clay contents and lower water-holding capacity.

  • Unfavourable pH for plant growth.

  • High electrical conductivity, high sodium and low potassium nutrients and sometimes saline.

  • Coarse texture, high stoniness and low cation exchange capacity of mine spoil suggest that agronomic use is questionable without fertiliser addition.

  • Low in organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients and very low microbiological activity.

1.6 Ecorestoration

In mining context, reclamation often refers to the general process whereby the mined wasteland is returned to some forms of beneficial use (Cooke and Johnson 2002), whilst restoration refers to reinstatement of the pre-mining ecosystem in all its structural and functional aspects, rehabilitation means the progression towards the reinstatement of the original ecosystem, and replacement is the creation of an alternative ecosystem to the original (Bradshaw 2000).

Land reclamation is a broad term and is often used in varied sense in the literature of after-use possibilities of strip-mine spoil. According to Khoshoo (1988), ‘It is the treatment of land creating conditions for bringing the land back to some beneficial use. Reclamation does not necessarily mean restoring the land to its original conditions. According to National Academy of Sciences study committee, USA (1974), ‘Reclamation renders a site habitable to indigenous pre-mining condition organisms or organisms nearly so’.

Reclamation is not synonymous to restoration or rehabilitation. Whilst restoration is the replication of site conditions prior to disturbance, rehabilitation implies returning the disturbed land to a form and productivity in conformity with a prior land use plan including a stable ecological state that does not contribute substantially to environmental deterioration and is consistent with surrounding aesthetic values. In UK, the Commission of Mining and Environment (Zuckerman Commission 1972) accepted the following terms:
  • Restoration—recreating conditions suitable for previous use of area

  • Rehabilitation—creating conditions for a new and substantially different use of the mining site

  • Reclamation—returning a derelict site to some use

In the past 15 years, there have been major advances in ‘restoration ecology’ as an academic discipline. The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) has helped organise and formalise restoration ecology, providing a central authority and general guidelines for ecological restoration (SER 2004). Restoration ecology has also become an increasingly prominent topic in scientific publications, both in total articles published and as a percentage of all ecology publications.

Restoration-specific journals such as Restoration Ecology have blossomed into major scientific outlets, and restoration papers have had an increasing presence in top-tier applied ecology journals, including special issues dedicated to restoration for wide readership (e.g. Restoration Ecology, Ecological Applications, Journal of Applied Ecology, Forest Ecology and Management, Science). Numerous books that investigate scientific and practical facets of restoration have been published in this period.

1.6.1 Definition of Ecorestoration

There are several definitions of ecorestoration given by different ecologist, restoration ecologist and scientific societies (Bradshaw 1987, 1996; SER 2004; USDA Forest Service 2010) which are highlighted below:
  • Restoration—recreating conditions suitable for previous use of area ‘often used to mean restoring the original land-use or vegetation or even the same land form’, or ‘it is the return of an ecosystem to an approximation of its structural and functional condition before damage occurred’ or ‘return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance’.

  • Ecological restoration is the process of renewing and maintaining ecosystem health. It requires understanding of not only the nature of the ecosystem itself but also the nature of the damage and how to repair it (Bradshaw 1987).

  • Ecological restoration ‘is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed’ (SER 2004).

  • Rehabilitation—creating conditions for a new and substantially different use of the mining site.

  • Reclamation—returning a derelict site to some use. ‘Process of creating a land use, which may be hard (industrial, commercial) or soft (agriculture, amenity) on a site where mining and quarrying operation have finished’.

  • Revegetation is the process of vegetation establishment and aftercare undertaken as part of reclamation, rehabilitation or restoration.

  • Recultivation—it generally applies to the agronomic and ecological aspects of reclamation, rehabilitation or restoration.

  • After use means a land use to which a site is returned, which should be beneficial although not necessarily economic.

  • Aftercare describes the crucial process of managing the soils and the vegetation systems after the initial revegetation or recultivation in order to ensure that the desired land use is attained within a reasonable time period. The process would involve soil amelioration and vegetation management that is more intensive than normally associated with land in that particular use.

  • The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) defines ecological restoration as an ‘intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability’. The practice of ecological restoration includes wide scope of projects including erosion control, reforestation, the use of genetically local native species, removal of non-native species and weeds, revegetation of disturbed areas, reintroduction of native species, as well as habitat and range improvement for targeted species. The term ‘ecological restoration’ refers to the practice of the discipline of ‘restoration ecology’.

  • Ecological restoration ‘is the process of assisting the recovery of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystem that have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition, structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to make terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future conditions’ (USDA forest service 2010).

1.6.2 Attributes of Restored Ecosystem

What is meant by ‘recovery’ in ecological restoration? An ecosystem is ‘recovered and restored’—when it contains sufficient biotic and abiotic resources to continue its development without further assistance. It will be self-sustaining both structurally and functionally. It will demonstrate resilience to normal ranges of environmental stress and disturbance. The nine attributes listed below provide a basis for determining when restoration has been accomplished. Some attributes are readily measured. Others must be assessed indirectly (i.e. functional aspects of ecosystem) (SER 2004).
  1. 1.

    Comparison of characteristic of species of restored ecosystem, namely, the reference ecosystem.

  2. 2.

    The species composition in the restored ecosystem should be consisting of indigenous species to the greatest extent as practicable.

  3. 3.

    All functional groups necessary for the continued development and/or stability of the restored ecosystem are represented.

  4. 4.

    The physical environment of the restored ecosystem is capable of self-sustaining and reproducing species necessary for its continued stability or development along the desired trajectory.

  5. 5.

    The restored ecosystem apparently functions normally for its ecological stage of development, and signs of dysfunction are absent.

  6. 6.

    The restored ecosystem is suitably integrated into a larger ecological matrix or landscape, with which it interacts through abiotic and biotic flows and exchanges.

  7. 7.

    Potential threats to the health and integrity of the restored ecosystem from the surrounding landscape have been eliminated or reduced as much as possible.

  8. 8.

    The restored ecosystem is sufficiently resilient to endure the normal periodic stress events in the local environment that serve to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.

  9. 9.

    The restored ecosystem is self-sustaining to the same degree as its reference ecosystem and has the potential to persist indefinitely under existing environmental conditions. Nevertheless, aspects of its biodiversity, structure and functioning may change as part of normal ecosystem development and may fluctuate in response to normal periodic stress and occasional disturbance events of greater consequence. As in any intact ecosystem, the species composition and other attributes of a restored ecosystem may evolve as environmental conditions change.


1.6.3 Underlying Principles of Restoration

The term restoration normally implies return to an original state. In ecological restoration, it should be thought of as applying to whole ecosystems, and mine waste site rehabilitation or replacement is more practicable than restoration. The components of restoration are the chemical and physical aspects of the habitat and the species themselves. Each of these may require specific treatment, but natural restorative processes (succession) should not be neglected. The process of restoration being progressive, the criteria of success are not easy to define. The most important point is that ecosystem development should be on an unrestricted upward path (Bradshaw 1996). The details of this process are discussed below:

The word ecosystem includes the biotic and abiotic components occurring together in a particular area, and they are inclusive and closely interacting with each other through energy and material cycling. So when the restoration of ecosystems is being referred to, then the fundamental processes by which ecosystems work have to be restored. When we talked about habitat restoration, habitat just refers to a place where organisms live, therefore, more emphasis should be on the restoration of place than of important ecological functions.

1.6.4 Options in Restoration

There are many attributes to an ecosystem, but all are simplified into two main components, structural and functional components and in equilibrium in terms of exchange of matter and energy in the ecosystem. After degradation, some interventions are required to restore these components. In Fig. 1.1, a different option for improvement of degraded ecosystem is explained in terms of two major components of ecosystem—ecosystem structure (species composition and complexity) and ecosystem function (biomass and nutrient contents). When degradation occurs, both components are usually destroyed (degraded ecosystem). Restoration implies bring back the ecosystem to its original state in terms of both structure and function. There are other alternatives, rehabilitation in which this is not totally achieved and replacement of original with something new and may be better. All these general terms are covered under reclamation. Mitigation is a different consideration. Both components will have suffered and will have to be restored. Rehabilitation, in which progress has been made but the original state not achieved, and reclamation, is something different and that is similar to replacement as shown in same figure. In particular, it points to the fact that restoration may not be easy. It may be possible, perhaps, to restore the functions fairly completely, but to achieve the original structure may be more difficult. For example, in a forest ecosystem, full age structure may take 500 years, although biological function may be restored within 10 years.
Fig. 1.1

Options for reconstruction of degraded ecosystem (After Bradshaw 1996)

So in many situations, true restoration may be unrealistic, and realistically, rehabilitation and replacement can be proper options. Replacement is a particularly interesting option since it may allow restoration of a component, such as productivity, to a higher level than existed previously.

The structural and functional ecosystem characteristics that are usually measured during ecorestoration process are given in Tables 1.4 and 1.5.
Table 1.4

Ecosystem characteristics for consideration as ecological restoration objectives (Adapted from Cook and Jhonson 2002)

Sl no.

Ecosystem characteristics


Composition of species presence and their relative abundance


Structure: vertical arrangement of vegetation and soil components


Pattern: horizontal arrangement of system components


Heterogeneity: a variable composing of characteristics 1–3


Function: performance of basic ecosystem processes (energy capture, water retention, nutrient cycling)


Species interactions, for example, pollination and seed dispersal


Dynamics and resilience: succession and state-transition processes, ability to recover from normal episodic disturbance events (e.g. drought, fire)

Table 1.5

Structural vegetation measurements commonly used to monitor restoration and the related functional characteristics that are implied (Adapted from Cook and Jhonson 2002)

The structural measurement

Functional characteristic needed

Biomass (g/m2)

Productivity (g/m/a)

Species density

Species turnover (mortality, reproduction)

Species richness

Functional loss caused by missing species

Life-form spectra

Functional loss caused by absence of life forms

Indices of diversity/similarity

Species interactions which promote ecosystem functioning

1.6.5 Components of Restoration

Once ecosystem is destroyed, factors essential for the redevelopment of the ecosystem should be considered. Naturally, this can involve many different factors, depending on the nature of ecosystem and the magnitude of degradation. Essentially three factors will need attention: (1) remodelling the physical aspects of the habitat; (2) remodelling the chemical aspects, nutrients and toxicity; and (3) replacing missing species or removing undesirable exotic species and weeds. Attempts are now being made to rationalise the selection of tree species as well as maintain proper slope for revegetation. It is also essential to identify the controlling factors which are not going to ameliorate naturally should be addressed first.
  • Use of natural processes: Many ecorestoration researches opined that natural process should be used wherever possible because (1) they cost nothing, (2) they are likely to be self-sustaining because they originate from nature and (3) they can be used on a large scale. Although it is clear that natural processes can eventually achieve full restoration, they take a long time and need to be assisted.

  • Physical problems: Mine waste materials are compacted and have a high bulk density, yet changes take place naturally by the growth of vegetation, the incorporation of organic matter and the activities of soil fauna and flora. However, in some seriously compacted situations, natural recovery is so slow that mechanical treatment is necessary.

  • Nutrient problems: One of the most common problems of degraded terrestrial environments is the lack of nutrients, particularly nitrogen. The soil nitrogen capital, normally at least 1,000 kg N/ha, can be rebuilt up by means of fertilisers, but this is expensive. It is much simpler to introduce legumes, such as white clover, Stylosanthus, Trifolium, which can accumulate nitrogen at the rate of 100 kg N/ha/year. However, calcium and phosphorus levels must be sufficient to maintain the growth of these species. Although N-fixing species can often be chosen that do not have as special nutrient requirements, nutrients such as phosphorus cannot be conjured out the air and will remain deficient if not added.

  • Species: It is often presumed that those species are not introduced they will arrive on their own. However, natural invasion of species depends on surrounding seed pool and seed dispersal power of those species. For rapid establishment of diverse community, sowing of plant seeds is always required and very crucial to introduce the missing species.

1.6.6 Criteria of Ecorestoration Success

Now it is understood that intervention is required for ecorestoration process, and ecological professional may ask for everything to be restored completely, which is actually impossible (Bradshaw 1996). However, certain manipulations, such as retention and replacement of original topsoil and reintroduction of pre-existing species, may be the way to achieve end point. During ecorestoration process, most important is to set off succession in the right direction and then leave nature to continue itself. Nobody thinks wrong in planting small tree to re-establish a forest but to achieve satisfactory growth of tree; it may be necessary to ensure that soil is fertile or make necessary intervention to enhance fertility (i.e. increase nitrogen fertility by introducing legumes).

What Are the Criteria of Ecorestoration Success to Be Considered?
  1. 1.

    Structure of ecosystem: It should be based on structure of ecosystem and in particular the presence or absence of species and functional aspects, such as plant growth; sometimes, it should be a much simpler criterion, such as the amount of heavy metal emanating from a mine site, since water quality in the downstream will be directly related to the release of metals.

  2. 2.

    Similarity of species composition: If reliance is being placed on the progressive effects of natural processes, what level has to be achieved? Should species composition in the newly reconstructed site be 75 or 90% of the pre-existing species? There can be no fixed criterion for these, although SMCRA (US Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act) expects 90% species similarity.

  3. 3.

    Time: Once targets have been set, when should they be achieved? Five years is taken as the period for bond release under SMCRA (USA). But for mine restoration process, such 5 years is not long enough to judge whether interventions are adequate. In UK conditions, time taken for build-up limiting nutrient stock of 700 kg N/ha in the soil for kaolin mine waste is taken as recovery time. By chronosequence study of coal mine overburden dumps, Mukhopadhyay and Maiti (2011) reported that 17 years is the minimum time period for ecosystem recovery of coal mine overburden dumps on the basis of improvement in physico-chemical characteristics of mine spoils. The recovery time was calculated by comparing cation exchange (CEC) and base saturation (%), accumulation of organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, texture, porosity and moisture values with natural sal (Shorea robusta) forest. However, this recovery period will depend on geo-climatic conditions, types of tree species, nature of soil ameliorant, proximity of seed sources, aftercare and maintenance and magnitude of disturbance by anthropogenic activity.


Conclusive Remarks

  • There is a close relationship between ecological understanding and successful restoration. If we do not understand the process of working in an ecosystem, then we are unlikely to be able to reconstruct it so that it works.

  • Testing of different aspects of intervention in ecorestoration process has to be carried out in the field.

  • It is essential that results are published in journals or reports that are readily available to everyone working in the field. Reviews, including failures as well as successes, are particularly important, and new findings and ideas can be promulgated and developed.

  • Finally, the development of the science of restoration should go hand in hand with achievements of successful restoration itself.

The legal and scientific framework for the restoration of drastically disturbed ecosystem is best described by Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1997 of USA (SMCRA). The environmental requirements established by the SMCRA are as follows:
  • Restore mined lands to former or better use

  • Backfill and grade the mined areas to their approximate original contour

  • Control erosion and attendant air and water pollution

  • Minimise disturbance to the hydrological balance—surface and groundwater

  • Remove, separate and respread the topsoil (plus subsoil in case of prime farmland)

  • Establish adequate vegetation on the mined lands

1.7 Relevant Issues of Dump Rehabilitation

  1. 1.

    Drainage, sedimentation and erosion control under different land use, namely, vegetation cover as well as geotechnical aspects of dumps. Quantification of sediment load using artificial rainfall simulator/in situ condition. Disposal/reuse of sediment. Design of sedimentation pond and garland drains

  2. 2.

    Seed bed ecology: natural invasion of seeds, plant succession, identification of constrains of seed germination in OB dumps, preparation of suitable seed mixtures and optimisation of green belt

  3. 3.

    Screening of suitable legumes: herbaceous forage and tree, nitrogen enrichment and nitrogen dynamics in dumps. Identification of physical, nutritional and microbiological constrains for dump reclamation

  4. 4.

    Ecorestoration technique of the forest area. Conservation of biodiversity and ecorestoration matching with surrounding landscape. Adoption of innovative approaches

  5. 5.

    Use leguminous forbs and grasses as pioneer colony in dumps stabilisation

  6. 6.

    Use of soil amendments/ameliorants

  7. 7.

    Identification of suitable mulch and mulching practices, in situ moisture conservation practices

  8. 8.

    Reclamation of erosion prone and/or steep slope areas: use of Geojute, Netlon, hydroseeding and biological stabilisation measures

  9. 9.

    Transfer of heavy metals in food chain especially from metal mine dumps

  10. 10.

    Reclamation of mined-out orphan lands by using seed mixtures

  11. 11.


  12. 12.

    Topsoil: feasibility of storing, reuse and quality assessment

  13. 13.

    Categorisation of dumps based on reclamation potential and regeneration of ecosystem


1.8 Aims of Biological Reclamation

The main aims of biological reclamation are

Short-Term Goals

  • To control erosion quickly with fast-growing plants, those that could be acted as first coloniser in the derelict site may be grass–legume mixtures, for example.

  • The criteria of selection of species having a good foliage cover, evergreen, and have good binding capacity of loose spoil materials, that is, preferably tuft fibrous root system.

  • These plants should also have capacity to grow extreme environmental conditions—like low moisture, high temperature, less nutrients, no decomposers in spoil surface (without humus and organic matter) and no soil cover (may be arise in some cases).

Long-Term Goals

To create ecological equilibrium between the ‘spoil, microflora and microfauna and plants’ with surrounding environment. To achieve the ecological equilibrium, composition of plant species could be:
  • Forest trees—mainly multipurpose trees (MPT)

  • Fruit orchards

  • Row crops (if possible and economically viable)

  • Forage crops (forage legumes and grasses)

  • Other long-term uses—eco-park and recreational areas

  • Aesthetic beauty—shady, evergreen and flowering plants

  • Dust control (by planting trees having dense branching, evergreen, closely arranged simple leaves and rough surface)

1.9 Philosophies of Revegetation

The approaches to revegetation can be described in terms of three different basic philosophies:
  • Ameliorative

  • Adaptive

  • Forestry and agricultural

  1. 1.
    The Ameliorative Approach
    • It relies on achieving optimum condition for plant growth by improving physical, chemical and biological characteristics of waste dump by using amendments.

    • Most suitable plant species are grown based on edaphic properties.

    • This approach is commonly used in preference to the adaptive approach because it is quicker, requires less forward planning and is less labour intensive.

  2. 2.
    The Adaptive Approach
    • This approach emphasises selection of the most suitable species, subspecies, cultivars and ecotypes to meet the rigorous extreme conditions.

    • In addition, but not necessarily, the mine waste may be improved using amendments to achieve optimum establishment and loon-term growth.

    • This approach is simple but constrained by the availability of suitable plant species.

  3. 3.
    The Forestry and Agricultural Approach
    • This is used directly on less-toxic waste such as iron, solid waste from integrated steel plan, bauxite waste etc. The waste is covered with deep layer of topsoil. The crops or woodland and/or scrub species are established using conventional or specialised techniques.


1.10 Problems of Biological Reclamation

In great majority of the cases, the raw overburden material produced by mining activities does not possess any soil character. The heterogeneous overburden material usually possesses very poor physico-chemical characteristics and is devoid of any nutrients and organic matter. Natural soil formation starts only after the establishment of vegetation cover, which is the only source of nutrients on derelict sites. Due to acidic/alkaline nature of spoil material, natural plant succession process is delayed.

Secondly, due to lack of microbial activity on spoil dumps, nutrient cycling process does not start. Soil moisture also plays a vital role for initial plant establishment. For initial start-up of nutrient recycling in derelict sites, organic amendments have paramount significance. The soil generally is formed over long periods by weathering and disintegration of parent rocks. They have little nutrients to support plant life. For them to become productive, they must evolve through weathering, biological process and leaching.

Natural processes take a very long time to change the characteristic of mine spoil. Thus, artificial revegetation on mined land can accelerate the process. The soil slowly loses the characteristics of the parent body (overburden) and gets the nature of that of local environment. Soil thus establishes equilibrium with the environment, and mature soil is formed. Now-a-days, it is recommended that, for an economically attractive returns from derelict sites, raising food/fodder plants, particularly fodder grasses, legumes and fruit trees is necessary.

1.11 Dump Reclamation Practices in India

Case 1: External Dumps Created on Plain Ground

There is always a need to excavate the overlying waste materials to reach coal seam and dump OB materials outside the mining areas. These are known as external OB dumps. External OB dumps are necessary of any opencast mining, but once created, they seem to become external to the interest of mining industry despite posing a substantial treat to environment. The MOEF stipulated that slope of the OB dumps should not exceed 28°.

In India, those dumps are concurrently reclaimed once it is inactive (dead). Sometimes, OB materials are dumped on abandoned quarry (if it is available). The success of any biological reclamation depends on climatic conditions, nature of spoils, types of plant species, nature of dumps, proximity to seed banks (nearby vegetation) and types of amendments used. As all these factors are very much site specific and depends on geo-mining conditions, systematic bioremediation of these dumps and creation of database of that particular types of set-up will be used during mine closure planning process.

Case 2: In-Pit OB Dumps

Now-a-days, maximum efforts are given for in-pit dumping. The height of dumps is reduced, and excavated area is concurrently filled up, and there is an opportunity to restore the area to its original topography (i.e. popularly called as AOC, approximate original contour). As reclamation of in-pit dumps is also carried out simultaneously, collection of database like case 1 will be helpful for planning of ‘closure’.

Case 3: Void Left at the Last Part of the Quarry

These large water bodies are sometimes useful for the community—for storage of irrigation water, pisciculture or used by day-to-day purpose. The banks must have gentle slope and afforested. In ECL, some of the water bodies are presently being used by local community for irrigation, washing, bathing and even sources of livelihood by catching fishes. Of course, in these water bodies, no planned or commercial pisciculture is practised due to problems of catching fishes, because of depth or may be leasing problems or protection from theft or the community commonly shares the water body.

Hydro-reclamation is also bioremediation process. Bearing all problems in mind, the best economic end use of water bodies is pisciculture or water sports, like boating. For pisciculture, important parameters to be monitored are shape, slope, depth (around 30 m preferable), quality of water whether suitable for pisciculture and productivity. The shape, slope and depth depend on geo-mining conditions; the quality of water depends on characteristics of strata; similarly food production for fishes depends on production of planktons (i.e. phytoplankton and zooplankton). Monitoring of water quality vis-à-vis enhancing of suitability for pisciculture activity should be taken care, and ‘database’ must be created by monitoring similar type of water-filled quarries. This database must be used for ‘mine closure’ plan.

Case 4: Shallow Voids

At mines where the stripping ratio is low, OB materials may not fill the void created due to the mining operation. In such case, concurrent reclamation practices may be adopted. The backfilling sequence has to be planned in details and inspected by mine management frequently to ensure compliance. This practice is carried out at Piparwar mine of NK area of CCL (Maiti 2006). Sometimes, it is used as dumping ground or could be used as disposal sites for fly ash. Once the voids are filled, these can be reclaimed.
  • Fly ash, a waste from power generation plants, may be considered as filling materials (e.g. West Bokaro and Damoda of BCCL).

  • OB materials from nearby quarry may be used as filled materials.

  • If no filling materials are available from nearby sources, water body may be created and reclaimed (i.e. hydro-reclamation).

1.12 Biological Reclamation Planning

Before revegetation planning, types of vegetation cover requirement have to be planned, which will depend on characteristics of plant growth medium (i.e. nature of minesoil), quality of available of topsoil, proximity to the nearby seed sources (i.e. natural seed banks), climatic conditions (rainfall, temperature) and proneness to anthropogenic disturbance. A clear objective of reclamation and final land use after the end of mining operation should be clearly defined by mine authority along with the consultation of regulators and local bodies. The reclamation planning should be considered at an early stage of inception of project. All the planning of the mine degraded land should be based on the following basic principles:
  1. 1.

    Community involvement: Mining is a temporary activity, and as temporary occupiers of the land, mining company should conduct their business to facilitate post-mining land use. In proposals for redevelopment, community and environmental stewardship should be included in the planning and operational stages of the plan.

  2. 2.

    Progressive reclamation: The mining companies are encouraged to use progressive reclamation whenever possible.

  3. 3.

    Visual impact assessment: Surface mining has the potential to visually impact the natural landscape. A visual landscape assessment incorporated into reclamation planning should provide certainty that the final site design will be compatible with view sheds within surrounding natural landscapes.

  4. 4.

    Compatible land use/land cover: Reclamation and mine closure should provide land that is restored to a condition that matches surrounding land cover or accommodates another land use identified in the final reclamation plan. Final reclamation plans should ensure that subsequent land use/land cover objectives are clearly identified, described and are compatible with the surrounding land use and landscape.

  5. 5.
    Topsoil management: Topsoil management is vital to establishing a self-sustaining cover of vegetation in reclaimed areas. Topsoil should be preserved for reclamation wherever possible, and soil quality should be protected during moving and storage. Soil management should consider issues such as:
    • Quality assurance during stripping

    • Identifying stockpile locations to maintain soil quality

    • Temporary seeding

    • Permanent vegetation of stockpiles to control wind and water erosion

  6. 6.

    Human intervention is required to enhance moisture-holding capacities, drainage and use mulches and reduce compaction of the soil. Where little or no topsoil exists prior to mining, it may be necessary to amend or import soils depending on the final land use and site conditions.

  7. 7.

    Revegetation planning: A key element of successful reclamation projects is the establishment of a self-sustaining, succession-based vegetation cover through the plantation and application of native grasses and legumes seed mixtures. This should include a ‘revegetation plan’ to establish the goals for vegetation at the beginning. Revegetation plans should mimic surrounding non-disturbed areas (control area, e.g. forest area) or encourage specific ecosystem establishment, incorporating strengths of both native and non-native species. This approach is referred to as successional reclamation, which refers to a multistaged process that relies on different treatments over a period of time.

  8. 8.
    Ecological restoration using successional revegetation methods where appropriate: This approach to reclamation planning is encouraged so that the eventual plant community promotes native species. Selection of native species is encouraged. Through this process, the initial use of non-native species will be succeeded by native species. This cover is important as it is considered to be the bridge between initial colonisers and later developing vegetation.
    • Protection of remaining patches of the original vegetation is encouraged to increase seed propagation and improve conditions for natural regeneration of native species. Development of floral banks is one of key activity for successful ecorestoration. The wild climbers, shrubs and small tree sapling may be preserved “habitat transplantation method”. During transplantation, care should be taken like, soil should be moisten to protect the wire and tears of roots, operation should be carried out in rainy seasons, and transfer as much topsoil as possible along with the roots to the “Floral bank” site.

  9. 9.

    Prevention of erosion and sedimentation: Grasses and legumes may be required for temporary erosion control and soil rehabilitation. Reclamation plans that involve erosion protection with revegetation must aim to encourage native vegetation and describe appropriate seed mixture, seeding and planting techniques.

  10. 10.

    Site disturbance: Issues from past mining operations such as old infrastructure, subsidence, underground workings, spontaneous combustion, underground mine fires and anthropogenic disturbances should be addressed in the reclamation plan.

Figure 1.2 shows the important activities that are required to be carried out carefully to achieve predefined vegetation cover development.
Fig. 1.2

Flow chart showing important activities required for revegetation of mine-degraded land (After Maiti 2010)

1.13 The Legal and Statutory Framework for Ecorestoration

Mineral deposits are governed by various statutes: The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (1957), The Mineral Concession Rules (1960), The Mineral Conservation and Development Rules (1988), The National Mineral Policy (1993) and The Granite Conservation and Development Rules (1999). These statutes also prescribe statutory guidelines for the restoration but either very vaguely or without reference to conservation needs. There are no legal provisions for key issues of monitoring amelioration practices.

1.13.1 The Mine and Mineral (Development and Regulation), MMDR Act 1957 (Amended on 1984 and 1994)

Under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, the following sections are pertained to environment:
  • Section 4A (1) and (2): Termination of PL and ML on environmental and other grounds

  • Section 13(2): Rehabilitation of flora in leasehold area for major minerals

  • Section 15 (1A): Rehabilitation of flora with respect to minor mineral licences

  • Section 18(1): Rules making power on protection of environment in the mining areas

1.13.2 Mineral Conservation and Development Rules (MCDR), 1988 (Amended up to 25th Sep. 2000)

These have been enacted under the MMDR, 1957, for the conservation and development of minerals. Chapter V, Rule 31 to 41 is entirely on environment.

Rule 31. Protection of Environment

Every holder of a prospecting licence or a mining lease shall take all possible precautions for the protection of environment and control of pollution whilst conducting prospecting, mining, beneficiation or metallurgical operations in the area.

Rule 32. Removal and Utilisationof Topsoil

  1. 1.

    Every holder of a prospecting licence or a mining lease shall, wherever topsoil exists and is to be excavated for prospecting or mining operations, remove it separately.

  2. 2.

    The topsoil so removed shall be utilised for restoration or rehabilitation of the land which is no longer required for prospecting or mining operations or for stabilising or landscaping the external dumps.

  3. 3.

    Whenever the top soil cannot be utilised concurrently, it shall be stored separately for future use.


Rule 33. Storage of Overburden, Waste Rock, Etc.

  1. 1.

    Every holder of a prospecting licence or a mining lease shall take steps so that the overburden, waste rock, rejects and fines generated during prospecting and mining operations or tailings, slimes and fines produced during sizing, sorting and beneficiation or metallurgical operations shall be stored in separate dumps.

  2. 2.

    The dumps shall be properly secured to prevent escape of material therefrom in harmful quantities which may cause degradation of environment and to prevent causation of floods.

  3. 3.

    The site for dumps, tailings or slimes shall be selected as for as possible on impervious ground to ensure minimum leaching effects due to precipitations.

  4. 4.

    Wherever possible, the waste rock, overburden, etc., shall be backfilled into the mine excavations with a view to restoring the land to its original use as far as possible.

  5. 5.

    Wherever backfilling of waste rock in the area excavated during mining operations is not feasible, the waste dumps shall be suitably terraced and stabilised though vegetation or otherwise.

  6. 6.

    The fines, rejects or tailings from mine, beneficiation or metallurgical plants shall be deposited and disposed in a specially prepared tailings disposal area such that they are not allowed to flow away and cause land degradation or damage to agricultural field, pollution of surface water bodies and ground water or cause floods.


Rule 34. Reclamation and Rehabilitation of Lands.

  • Every holder of prospecting licence or mining lease shall undertake the phased restoration, reclamation and rehabilitation of lands affected by prospecting or mining operations and shall complete this work before the conclusion of such operations and the abandonment of prospect or mine.

  • Comment: No clear definitions of the terms again.

Rule 35. Precaution Against Ground Vibrations.

  • Whenever any damage to public buildings or monuments is apprehended due to their proximity to the mining lease area, scientific investigations shall be carried out by the holder of mining lease so as to keep the ground vibrations caused by blasting operations within safe limit.

Rule 36. Control of Surface Subsidence

Stopping in underground mines shall be so carried out as to keep surface subsidence under control.

Rule 37. Precaution Against Air Pollution

Air pollution due to fines, dust, smoke or gaseous emissions during prospecting, mining, beneficiation or metallurgical operations and related activities shall be controlled and kept within ‘permissible limits’ specified under various environmental laws of the country including the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (14 of 1981), and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986), by the holder of prospecting licence or a mining lease.

Rule 38. Discharge of Toxic Liquid

Every holder of prospecting licence or a mining lease shall take all possible precautions to prevent or reduce the discharge of toxic and objectionable liquid effluents from mine, workshop, beneficiation or metallurgical plants and tailing ponds, into surface water bodies, groundwater aquifer and useable lands, to a minimum. These effluents shall be suitably treated, if required, to conform to the standards laid down in this regard.

Rule 39. Precaution Against Noise

Noise arising out of prospecting, mining, beneficiation or metallurgical operations shall be abated or controlled by the holder of prospecting licence or a mining lease at the source so as to keep it within the permissible limit.

Rule 40. Permissible Limits and Standards

The standards and permissible limits of all pollutants, toxins and noise referred to in rules 37, 38 and 39 shall be those notified by the concerned authorities under the provisions of the relevant statutes from time to time.

Rule 41. Restoration of Flora

  1. 1.

    Every holder of prospecting licence or a mining lease shall carry out prospecting or mining operations, as the case may be, in such a manner so as to cause least damage to the flora of the area held under prospecting licence or mining lease and the nearby areas.

  2. 2.
    Every holder of prospecting licence or a mining lease shall:
    1. (a)

      Take immediate measures for planting in the same area or any other area selected by the Controller General or the authorised officer not less than twice the number of trees destroyed by reason of any prospecting or mining operations

    2. (b)

      Look after them during the subsistence of the licence/lease after which these trees shall be handed over to the State Forest Department or any other authority as may be nominated by the Controller General or the authorised officer

    3. (c)

      Restore, to the extent possible, other flora destroyed by prospecting or mining operations


Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988

Rule 4(2) states that a scheme for prospecting shall include baseline information of prevailing environmental conditions before the beginning of the prospecting operations.

Rules 11, 12 and 13 relate to the submission of the mining plans by leases existing before the coming in of the MCDR, whereby a lessee has been asked to submit a plan within a year of the commencement of these rules and then work according to the plan.
  • Rule 56 says that if the Controller General, Chief Controller of Mines or the Controller of Mines feel that a particular mine poses a grave and immediate threat to the environment, they may prohibit deployment of persons until the conditions specified by them are met.


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Copyright information

© Springer India 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Subodh Kumar Maiti
    • 1
  1. 1.Indian School of Mines Department of Environmental Science and EngineeringCentre for Mining EnvironmentDhanbadIndia

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