Jharia Coal Field




The Jharia coalfield which is the only coking coal source of India is located in the district of Dhanbad in Jharkhand (formerly known as South Bihar till the formation of new state Jharkhand in 2000). This is the largest coal producer in India with 23 big underground and nine open cast mines. The mining activities in these coalfields started in 1894. The history of Jharia coalfield fire can be traced back to 1916 when the first fire was detected. At present, more than 67 mine fires are reported from this region. There are about 20 fires spots covering an area of 17.35 sq.km. The only solution which is now seen is the "shifting of town" of approx 0.3 million populations.





-----------An Old Article on Jharia Past, Present and future.---------


In the Indian coal scenario Jharia coalfield occupies a special status as this is the only storehouse of prime coking coal and has been meeting the coking coal needs of the country for over a century. Coal mining in the coalfield was started in the last decade of the 19th century.

The coalfield having an area of about 450 sq km belongs to Gondwana group of Permian age and has Talchir, Barakar, Barren and Ranigunj measures. It is a sickle shaped coalfield occuring in the form of a basin truncated with a major boundary fault on the southern flank. The details of the sedimentary formations in the coalfield are given in Table 1, and the coal reserves in the coalfield are as shown in Table 2.

Due to coal mining and associated activities the land use in the coalfield has undergone redical changes as seen in Table 3, which gives a comparison of the land use in the years 1925, 1974, 1987 and 1993. In a subsequent study reported in 1996 the land use pattern of the coalfield area was as given in Table 4.

The coalfield has more than 40 workable coal seams out of which the upper seams have coals of superior quality and this quality deteriorates with the seams at deeper horizons. It is generally understood that the seams below VIII-Seam have medium to non-coking coals. The percentage of coal in Barakar measures is about 20, i.e., the overall coal-overburden ratio is 1:5. The relevant details are given in Table 1.


1. Details of sedimentary formations in Jharia coalfield


Sl No


Barakar formations

Barren measures

Ranigunj measures

Talchir measures


Area (sq m)







Extends in EW direction in the northern half and forms eastern and SE part of the coalfield

Exposed in central & southern part of the coalfield

Forms a basin in SW part of the coalfield

Outcrop in the NW as a thin strip along northern periphery of the coalfield


Number of workable coal seams






Thickness (m)






Percentage of coal /sandstone /shale







2. Coal reserves in Jharia coalfield in million tonne

Sl No





















(Source: Bharat Coking Coal Limited)



Table 3: Land use pattern in Jharia coalfield (Area as percentage)

Sl No

Land use






Villages, settlements, townships, etc.






Land in mining use including open pits






Water bodies






Forests (plantation)






Agriculture & natural vegetation






Fallow land and pasture





(Source: Center of Mining Environment, ISM, Dhanbad)


Table 4: Distribution of land use and coal leasehold pattern in JCF

Sl No


Area(sq km)



BCCL leasehold




Opencast & underground blocks




Subsided land




Under fire




Coal refuse/overburden dumps




Abandoned opencast pits




Others (Agri/Res/Indust)
















Other industrial























(Source : Bharat Coking Coal Limited)



The mining in the last 105 years or so has made major changes in the overall social and environmental scenario of the coalfield and today this is probably one of the most polluted coalfield in the country. Some important features of the coalfield are outlined below.


1.     The coalfield has more than 70 mine fires spread over an area of about 17 sq km. These fires are not only polluting the atmosphere but are also not permitting proper mining of coal seams underneath and in their vicinity. In the past few decades the coalfield has seen adequate mitigation of a few fires. Noteworthy is the management of Jogta fire. According to a BCCL estimate made in 1991 the mine fires have affected half of their 90 mines/collieries and had already consumed about 40 million tonne of coal. The fires had isolated about 1.8 billion tonne of coal from the possible recovery.


2.     A sizable area, about 35 sq km, has subsided in the coalfield. It is becoming difficult to find areas for caving in the underground mines and mining with hydraulic stowing is posing its well known problems of slow production, increased costs, and constraints of availability of sand and other suitable stowing solids. Some of the subsidences in the recent past have not only damaged the surface properties but also have caused social problems. Some portions of Jharia town have been said to be facing the threat form subsidence and backfilling has been done in the underground workings near Bata More for stabilizing underground openings. The road connecting Dhanbad town with Jharia town subsided in 2001 in a portion and in future many such collapses may take place causing problems to the traffic movement in the coalfield.


3.     There are more than 120 urban and rural settlements in the coalfield belonging to the coal mining companies and others. The total area occupied by these settlements in the coalfield in the year 1993 was over 30%. Although the provisions in the Coal Bearing Act and the rules of MADA are meant to regulate the construction work over the coal/mineral bearing areas many new constructions are coming up every year in the coalfield.


4.     The total population living over the coal bearing area in the different settlements is about 11 lakh and most of the settlements are unplanned. Some of the settlements are quite close to the fire areas and many houses/hutments have been built over subsided areas. The population density of the coalfield is rather very high, i.e., 2,400 persons/sq km.


5.     The coalfield has a vast network of railway lines for the transport of coal which connects Eastern Railway to South Eastern Railway. Some experiments have been successfully conducted for the extraction of the coal seams from underneath and in the vicinity of the railway lines and other surface properties.


6.     On a rough estimate about 7,000 million tonne of coal reserves are blocked under various surface properties, etc. and about 1,800 million tonne are blocked below fires.


7.     The coalfield also has a number of water bodies, i.e., rivers, jores, nallahs, etc.


8.     On the mining front the coalfield has both opencast as well as underground mines of various shapes and sizes.


9.     Due to multiplicity of coal seams in the coalfield and complex mining situations appropriate long term plans for exploitation of the coal reserves have not been developed.


10. It has been reported in the EMP of the coalfield prepared by Norwest Mine Services Limited in 1997 that the entire coalfield has been disturbed by human activities for a long period of over 100 years. The core area has been severely disturbed during by the surface and underground mining activities and more recently by other industrial activities. The northern part of the coalfield has been more severely disturbed by mining, while the southern part has less disturbances.


11. Most of the core and buffer zone of the coalfield has been denuded of the forest cover and suffers from excessive soil erosions.


12. The largest land use in the coalfield has been dry-land agriculture and the integrated paddy agriculture was only in a small area.


13. On the basis of the soil characteristics the approximately 47% of the core and buffer area can be designated as good cultivable land and 36% as moderately good cultivable land.


14. Ground water in the coalfield has been disturbed by the mining activities. The ground water in the coalfield is supposed to occur in its multi-aquifer system, but due to mining the aquifers have been disturbed and their yield has been considerably decreased over the years over and adjacent to the mines.



It is difficult to estimate the total quantity of coal that has already been extracted and that which is available in the coal seams in the coalfield. On a rough estimate not more than 25 percent of the coal has been extracted and burnt by the mine fires and the remaining 75 percent is available.

The presence of numerous urban settlements, fires, railway lines, water bodies, etc. in the coalfield are not permitting effective exploitation of the coal seams. The overall percentage of extraction in the underground mines seldom exceed 40, while the opencast mines are facing the constraints in advancing due to the vicinity of the surface properties, etc. A study of the stability status of dwellings in Kustore, Bastacola, Lodna, Eastern Jharia, Pootki Ballihary and Chanch Victoria areas of BCCL conducted by the Central Mining Research Institute (CMRI) in the later half of the last decade of 20th Century reported the findings quoted below.

  • "The six areas with 39 mines were found to have 39 dwellings and part of 5 dwelling were found ;to be imminently in danger which required immediate action in term of eviction on priority basis. Nearly 8,413 houses were to be taken care of in these dwellings over an area of 19,76,542 sq m. Another 34 full dwellings and a fraction of another 5 were under Category III, covering an area of 16,13,431 sq m. These dwellings may come within the danger zone in a short time if suitable preventive measures were not adopted. A few of the areas like Eastern Jharia where the mining discontinued during 1938 to 1960 has a large number of dwellings under Category I and in case preventive measures were not taken from now itself, a stage may come when the area may have very little scope of mining. The areas located in and round Jharia have a large number of unstable dwellings under Category IV - Kustore Area 16 and 3partial bustees, Lodna 14, Pootki Ballihary 7, Bastacola 1 and 2 partial and Eastern Jharia 1, which required immediate attention.

  • "Exact estimate of the coal - magnitude, quality and status below Category IV dwellings could not be established because of non availability of the details. The estimated reserve under the Kustore area alone estimated to be 322 million tons could however be an eye opener ;for the techno-economics of the eviction exercise."

In these studies the stability of the dwellings was grouped under I to IV classes, the last one being unstable to be evicted on priority basis. A minimum of 20 houses were taken as the bench mark to define a dwelling/village/bustee/town in the study.

Although time to time attempts were made to remove and resettle the urban and rural settlements from the coal bearing areas not much success could be achieved and the social and general scenario in the coalfield area presents a situation where it is becoming difficult to plan scientific mining with due regard to conservation, environmental management, and economics. It is estimated that below Jharia township alone about 600 million tonne of coking coal is blocked, which can be economically opencasted.

In the ninth decade an attempt was made for planning a large opencast mine, i.e., Mukunda Project, for exploiting all the seams available in a part of the coalfield and at the same time liquidating the mine fires in the project area and developing the land for post mining use.

The present situation of the coalfield demands immediate extensive measures for the development of suitable strategies and action plans for the exploitation of the coal in the seams based on sound and proven technologies. Otherwise the mine fires and the environmental situation in the coalfield will continue to degrade.

The coalfield has vast areas with potential for inundation not only from the surface water bodies but also from the waterlogged underground workings. The experiences of Gazlitand and Bagdigi are fresh in the minds of the people. People are living over fire and subsided areas in poorly constructed hutments/houses with eminent dangers.

The author very recently, i.e., in 2001, studied the case of Pootki-Bulihari Project where extraction of the coal seams was planned with caving as well as stowing. The study revealed that there was no possibility of extraction of the coal seams with caving due to the presence of water logged workings in the overlying seams. In another study for Jitpur colliery of IISCO it was possible to plan for the extraction of areas in XVII and XVIII seams with hydraulic sand stowing underneath and in the vicinity of a main railway siding and other surface properties.

In the recent years a number of studies have been conducted for Jharia coalfield, which included the diagnostic studies for the mines fires and an overall environmental management plan for the coalfield. In addition a lot of attention was given to long-term development planning of the coal mining areas in the Carrying Capacity Based Development Planning of Damodar River Basin, the report on this account has recently been submitted to the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF), Government of India.



If no suitable action is taken in time the situation in the coalfield will continue to worsen due to the following reasons.

1.     The mine fires in the coalfield will not only continue to consume coal but also will not permit effective exploitation of the coal seams lying underneath and in their vicinity.

2.     The construction work in the coalfield will continue blocking more and more coal below and a situation may come when there will be practically no place in the coalfield for adapting caving method of underground exploitation of the coal seams. The constructions on the surface may even make it difficult to exploit coal seams by stowing methods.

3.     The dangers of inundation to the underground workings will remain as the waterlogged underground workings will not only remain but may increase.

4.     Some of the settlements may get threatened by the advancing mine fires and in a decade or so it may be required to shift these settlements, e.g., some parts of Jharia town.

5.     Unsafe old underground workings in the coalfield may subside causing problems not only to the surface properties but also to the population living in the areas. These subsidence can also disrupt road and rail traffic in the coalfield.

6.     The overall environment in the coalfield in terms of air quality, water quality, water availability and land quality will further degrade and thus will clause not only inconvenience to the people but may also cause health problems.


If no suitable action is taken for the above the mining in the coalfield will slowly become difficult and uneconomical and many underground and opencast mines will be required to be closed without exploiting the lower seams. Huge quantity of coal will be left in the underground mines in the pillars to be formed for the protection of the surface properties.

With the decrease in the mining activities the population from over the coal bearing areas and the surroundings areas will start migrating as the land area in and around the coalfield will not be able to sustain the requirements of the people. There is practically no action plan available at present for the development of the post mining land in the coalfield.

Therefore, tomorrow of Jharia coalfield depends upon the adoption of the most feasible technology with due regard to conservation and environment with long-term planning inclusive of decommissioning and closure of the mines, reclamation and rehabilitation of the land areas for post mining use, and social concerns.



If the long-term plan of the coalfield is not seen in proper perspective the coalfield after about 25-30 years will probably be deserted having smoking mine fires, inundated underground mines, large subsided areas, overburden dumps of various shapes and sizes, and unreclaimed open pits. Hence, not only from the point of view of the mining activities but also from the standpoint of the environmental scenario the coalfield will present a deserted and bleak look.

The population of the coalfield will decrease and may reach a level of one-fourth or even less than that of the present level as there will be nothing in the coalfield and the surrounding areas to sustain living of the people.

Similarly the areas surrounding the coalfield will also be facing the social and financial problems as with the decline and reduction in the mining and associated activities the coal based industries will also be reducing and thus the level of the economic activities in the entire region in and around the coalfield will decrease. In fact this will affect the entire Dhanbad district as the main economic activity in the district is mining and more than 50% of the total population of the district directly and indirectly is associated with the mining activities. Among the other economic activities farming in the district is totally rain based as there is hardly any arrangement for irrigation. Recently some watershed management studies have been done.

If the social and economic activities in the coalfield and the surrounding areas are to be continued with a suitable developing trend with due regard to the quality of life it is necessary that the coalfield should be given a serious attention so that the most appropriate technical option for the continuation of the mining and associated activities is developed. The option should take into consideration the geo-statistics of the coal deposits in the coalfield area, social concerns, environmental management, decommissioning and closure of the mining activities, reclamation and rehabilitation of the mined out areas, and the development of the post mining land uses of the reclaimed and rehabilitated land. For the search of the most appropriate technical option for the coalfield that author suggests the following strategy.



Jharia coalfield presently has a complex situation with the mining and associated conditions varying from place to place. Therefore, for the development of the most appropriate technical option for the coalfield it is necessary to develop an inventory of the geo-mining conditions in the different parts of the coalfield. This inventory, after dividing the coalfield into suitable grid pattern, should cover the following details.

  1. Geology of the area in the grid outlining the following
    • Strata section
    • Sequence of the seams
    • Details of the seams, i.e., thickness, depth, dip, etc.
    • Quality of coal in the seams
    • Washability characteristics of the coals in the seams
    • Geological disturbances, i.e., faults, dykes, sills, etc.
  2. Status of mining and details thereof
    • Type(s) of mining being done in the area in detail
    • Seams under active mining
    • Pumping details
    • Status of the overlying seams
    • Status of the underlying seams
    • Status of water logging in the seams
    • Details of the mine fires and their status
    • Constraints in mining
    • Any apprehension of mining hazards/dangers
    • Any history of mining hazards/dangers
    • Production potential and actual production
    • Output per man shift
    • Nature and extent of mechanization and constraints thereof
    • Machine utilization
    • Economic status of mining activities, i.e., cost-benefit analysis
    • Short-term and long-term mining plans, if available
    • Any plan for decommissioning of the mining activities, mine closure, reclamation of the mining areas, and rehabilitation of the mining area.
    • Seam-wise availability of the reserves of coal
  3. Surface details
    • Surface plans including revenue plan and topography
    • Land-use details
    • Locations of the surface properties and their ownership
    • Locations of the surface water bodies
    • Surface infrastructure, transport, communication, etc.
    • Drainage pattern
  4. Environmental status
    • Total population and the details of the population, i.e., age, sex, education, etc.
    • Population growth rate
    • Total mining and associated activities employment
    • Other sources of employment in the area
    • Status of employment and income
    • Quality of life of the area and the level of satisfaction of the emotional, mental and physical needs of the people
    • Medical, health care and educational facilities and their adequacy
    • Any history of displacement and resettlement
    • Details of water environment, i.e., availability, sources, quality, sufficiency, etc.
    • Details of the liquid waste management and it adequacy
    • Details of the solid waste management system and its adequacy
    • Details of air quality and its management
    • Details of noise status and its management
    • Overall environmental quality
    • Any environmental management plan developed and approved
    • Any conditions laid down in environmental clearances, etc.
    • Environmental hazards/dangers, if any
    • Hazard mitigation strategies
    • Economic considerations in environmental management
    • Post mining land use plan, if available

The above details are to be compiled as accurately as possible and wherever the data is not available it should be indicated appropriately. This is important from the point of view of the assessment of the most appropriate technical option for the development of the coalfield.






The inventory of the data should then be used for the assessment of the following aspects of the most appropriate technical option.

  1. Quantity and quality of coal available in all the seams and the status of this availability, i.e., standing on pillars, stooks, etc., and undeveloped areas, etc.
  2. Constraints in exploitation of the coal seams due to surface properties, waterlogged workings, mine fires, etc.
  3. Feasibility of exploitation of the coal seams by opencast and underground mining methods considering that there is no constraint and also considering the constraints
  4. Extent of displacement and resettlement that will be required for the exploitation of the coal seams.
  5. Methodologies for the preparation of the coals in the different seams for the intended uses.
  6. The cost benefit analysis of feasible options including the costs on coal preparation.

    The above study will bring out the mining options for the different areas of the coalfield. A general review of the surface and underground situations of the coalfield reveals that in most of the situations, i.e., in about 70-80% of the area, it should be feasible to adapt opencast mining after the removal of the surface constraints. This will also facilitate extraction of the good quality coking coal locked in the upper seams. With the present status of technology it should be possible to plan opencast mining with coal overburden ration of 5 and even up to 7.5.


    Jharia coalfield requires immediate attention if the mining and associated activities in and around the coalfield are to be sustained on a long term basis as the present situation if allowed to continue will bring a marked decline in the mining and other activities and in about 30 years time the area may become deserted.

    The methodology suggested with suitable modifications after the compilation of the details may be developed for the planning of the mining activities in the coalfield with a long-term view point.

This article is contributed by Dr N C Saxena, Centre of Mining Environment, & Dean (P&RG), Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad