Mining the benefits of technology

IT and geospatial technology are also contributing to coal reforms, making mining more transparent and productive

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | April 27, 2015



The government has set a target of 1.5 billion tonne coal production by 2020, raising concerns over the ambitious task. State-owned Coal India Limited (CIL) is, however, confident, and says that if the issues of infrastructure, environmental clearances, land acquisition, law and order are met, this target is not a far-fetched idea. CIL is also pinning its hopes on technology, which is ‘transforming’ the PSU, and ultimately help the country become self-sufficient in coal supply.

To bring reforms in coal production and trade, the government is capitalising on technology in a big way. The electronic auction of 33 mines, which provided over '2 lakh crore to the treasury in March, is just one among a slew of initiatives taken by the coal ministry and CIL. Technology can bring in transparency, curb corruption and boost operational efficiency.

Real-time monitoring

In a year’s time, the ministry is planning to set up an electronic dashboard – a coal transaction platform – to ascertain real time data on coal production, consumption and the price band of coal across the country. “We are thinking in terms of an electronic platform, where all transactions related to coal, whether public or private, are recorded,” said coal secretary Anil Swarup adding that this would help the government in understanding the economics of coal. Additionally, a single platform for all coal inventories will be developed .

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in its report to the government on private sector participation in coal industry, has emphasised on setting up a coal transaction platform. This would enable “dynamic/ongoing assessment of sector specific coal usage/balance under government oversight”. This will have an impact on electricity traffic and facilitate 24x7 power supply. The report is currently not in the public domain.

To clear hurdles faced by private investors, Swarup has set up a coal monitoring portal – a micro-version of the project monitoring group (PMG) portal run by the cabinet secretariat to resolve the bureaucratic and regulatory challenges. Using this portal an investor can file a complaint giving details of the project and the name of the ministry (like petroleum, coal or environment) which is yet to grant the approval.

“The portal created a pressure on them [officials of these ministries]. That is why 160 projects worth '6 lakh crore were cleared in last 15 months,” noted Swarup. “The human psyche is such that no matter how inefficient I am I would like to appear efficient to the public. The PMG exposed people who were delaying decisions because the status was there on the portal.”

After a complaint is filed, it automatically goes to the concerned joint secretary of the respective ministry. The joint secretary will give his/her comments on the portal, which is visible to the one who has raised the issue. The issue will then be discussed in weekly tripartite meetings – with participation from the cabinet secretariat, the nodal ministry and the ministry withholding the approval. The minutes of the meetings would be posted on the portal.

Going paperless

The coal ministry, said Swarup, is also moving towards a paperless office. “When I came to the coal ministry I was quite aghast with the number of files that came to my office,” he said. The files had to be classified into two categories: simple information exchange and those related to decision making. Of this, around 60 percent of files were about information exchange. “We posted all this on website,” he said.

There are two sets of information flow in the government: structured and unstructured. The former has periodicity and is usually in form of a report. This kind of information is periodically updated by officials. “This way, I don’t have to seek and send that information. It’s there [on the portal]. This eliminated [the need to keep] a large number of files,” he said.

The second set of information is ad-hoc information which is sought from time to time. There is no format. “For these files we decided that information can come on mail and can be forwarded to the concerned official.  This dispenses with a large number of files.” This has increased accountability in file movement. Also, the digitised files help in analysing data.

From April 1, officials are emailing their leave applications. “Files which require my approval will move electronically, eventually,” said Swarup.

More integration

The CIL, under the coal ministry, is using IT and geospatial technology to boost production and curb corruption. To begin with, CIL and its subsidiaries will do away with manual tendering process and adopt e-procurement for goods, works and services from April 1. In case a subsidiary avoids e-procurement for a tender it will be required to submit a justification, Sutirtha Bhattacharya, chairman and managing director, CIL, told Governance Now.

CIL and its subsidiaries were already using e-procurement for the purchase of goods. Tenders related to works and services, however, were still being done manually. CIL is also bringing down the threshold amount, which is '10 lakh at present, to '2 lakh, for e-procurement.

To have a connected, integrated information system, CIL will soon appoint a consultant to help implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The ERP is aimed at automating and linking all its departments and bringing operational efficiency. This also includes integrated inventories across subsidiaries, Bhattacharya said.

“Once you have ERP, you will have a clear picture of inventory across subsidiaries and it will lead to resource optimisation. Let us say, there is critical machinery in a western subsidiary lying idle, and is needed in an eastern or northern subsidiary. We will be able to use it,” he explained.

As of now, CIL functions on a quasi-ERP system, Coal Net, developed by IIT Kharagpur.

CIL is exploring geospatial technologies and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for better monitoring and operational efficiency. “We are doing geo-fencing [an application using global positioning system to define geographical boundaries].” This helps in mapping boundaries of mines and nearby areas.

CIL is also using GPS to track movement of trucks and dumpers, ferrying material in the mining area. “We are also trying to set up an online monitoring system for the movement of dumpers. It is almost like a GPS-based taxi service. Suppose shovels have done their job. Now, unless dumpers clear the material, shovels will stand idle,” he said. This will reduce the delay in coal production. The delay looks differential but in the integral it is a huge delay, Bhattacharya noted.

CIL is also mooting to deploy UAV to deal with land acquisition, project monitoring and keeping a tab on coal pilferage. “Subject to government approval, we are not averse to using UAVs in certain areas,” he said adding that this would require clearance from the directorate general of civil aviation.

Bhattacharya said there are concerns about UAVs getting into the hands of Maoists as some coal fields lie in the ‘red corridor’. “We will have to do this in a fair, consultative manner.”

CIL will also use UAVs to monitor quality of plantation and forestation projects on dump hills. “Using UAVs you can check forestation quality, density. You can also track the distance travelled by dumpers,” Bhattacharya said.

These initiatives will check corruption and also increase efficiency and compliance. Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) and Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) have already started using geo-fencing, geo-tracking, and SMS alert systems. CIL is also integrating coal dispatch with SMS alert system.

pratap@governancenow.com

(The article appears in the April 16-30, 2015, issue)

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