Green plants cover the wasteland at Tetulmari colliery in Sijua, Dhanbad, on Wednesday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Acres of land that were once full of mine wastes are now teeming with green vegetation and a robust ecology of its own, thanks to an initiative of BCCL at two of its collieries in Dhanbad.
Fifteen hectares of overburden or waste material excavated from the mines — that usually escapes scientific interest while causing headache over disposal — at Tetulmari and Damoda collieries in Sijua and Barora have been ecologically restored.
At Damoda, two patches of four and three hectares are now home to 18,040 plants including varieties of grass, shrubs and trees after the campaign was begun in May 2012 under the supervision of the Union ministry of environment and forests.
BCCL took the help of Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute (FRI) to plant 4,000 saplings of trees such as neem and semal and anjan grass on eight hectares at Tetulmari.
Chief manager (forestry) of BCCL B.K. Haldar told The Telegraph the PSU was first of seven subsidiaries of Coal India Limited (CIL) that began ecological restoration measures in July 2011 on pilot basis at Tetulmari.
As many as 33 personnel of the environment department of BCCL including executives were trained for one week at FRI in July 2011 for plantation on mines overburden.
This apart, 140 project affected people of various areas under BCCL were also sent by the company to Dehradun for a similar skill training focused on plantation activities in mining wasteland.
“The presence of rocks and lack of soil in overburden is not conducive for plantation but we chose old wastes lying on degraded land that were full of weeds. But the rocks in these areas have a capacity to retain water due to the presence of clay,” said Haldar.
He explained that a three-tier plantation drive focused on grass, shrubs and trees was carried out in both places.
Haldar added the aim of the campaign was to develop a food chain in the area.
“The technique of restoration work adopted in Tetulmari and Damoda is the same. The only difference is that over 200 varieties of bamboo have been planted in Damoda,” said Haldar.
After the sites were deweeded, balls comprising seeds of herbs, shrubs, trees, grass and creepers from nearby forests were planted on the surface.
“The seed balls planted in holes caused by the uprooted weeds are specifically prepared by using seeds, forest soil and cow dung,” said Haldar.
Then comes mulching, or covering a plant’s base with material like decaying leaves to improve the quality of soil.
“Mulching of the soil to preserve moisture is carried out in spots where seed balls have been planted,” said Haldar.
The end result?
“As grass has grown, grasshoppers started arriving, followed by birds and then snakes and frogs, leading to restoration of the food chain in the area,” said Haldar.
The BCCL officer admitted that the result was “beyond our expectations, as we have witnessed growth of 11 feet of bamboo suckers (shoots growing from the root) in Damoda”.
The company also has in hand a roadmap prepared by FRI for ecological restoration of various collieries.