The city's economy is based on the coal and steel industries. Situated in the Damodar River valley, the city has evolved and expanded over time to a population of one million, ranking it 23rd in India. It is located about 200 km from Kolkata.Asansol is the 42nd Fastest growing city in the world and 10th in the India.
Industrial decline and revival
Technological obsolescence proved to be a bane for the Asansol industrial belt. As the British industrialists left, the Indian trading community, which took over the British-owned industries and mines, failed to handle the situation properly, leading to labour trouble and industrial decline. The government the IISCO Steel Plant of SAIL, the area is looking up again.
Asansol is in the heart of the coal country. Ranigunj coalfields cover an area of 1530 km². Although it is spread over four districts of West Bengal – Bardhaman, Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia – and a part of Dhanbad district (Jharia coalfields are also in that district) of Jharkhand, the heart of Ranigunj Coalfields lies in the Asansol region. Pandaveswar, Kajora, Jhanjra Bankola, Kenda, Sonepur, Kunustoria, Satgram,Ningha, Sripur, Sodepur and Salanpur are the major coal areas around Asansol. Kasta Coalfields, north of the Ajay river in Birbhum district, Mejia and Parbelia, across the Damodar in Bankura and Purulia district respectively, and Mugma, across the Barakar river in Dhanbad district, are adjacent to Asansol. Only small patches intrude into Durgapur subdivision. Coal in India was first mined in Narayankuri near Ranigunj. Sitarampur boasts of the first Mines Rescue Station, Directorate of Mines Safety and explosive manufacturing unit now defunct but the former two still in operation.
The region sits on seams of coal. Reserves of coal in West Bengal (mostly in Asansol) are estimated to be 22.62 billion tonnes. ECL has 107 operating mines, a majority of them in Asansol. Superior quality non-coking coal is mined in the region. With around two centuries of coal mining in the region, most of the coal in the upper seams have been exhausted and underground mining has been extending to deeper seams. However, substantial volumes of coal are available in the pillars and walls of coal left behind to support the roofs of underground mines. Coal remaining in the surface seams can be mined by open cast methods.
The use of heavy duty earth-moving equipment has led to the development of large open cast mines. ECL’s total coal production of 27.25 million tonnes in 2004–05, is expected to rise to 46 million tonnes by 2011–12. Out of this 32.84 million tonnes is expected to be from the open cast mines. The annual production of Sonepur Bazari open cast project, a major project in the area, is proposed to be raised from the level of 3 million tonnes in 2004–05 to 8 million tonnes by 2011–12.
Underground coal mining brings with it the problem of subsidence. By law, when coal is taken out from an underground mine it is to be filled in with sand. However, the laws were not there in earlier days and even when it was there, private mine owners had violated this for decades and left behind big gaps beneath the surface. At places, the surface is subsiding and creating havoc in the area.
In 1952, 12 people were killed in a roof collapse in Dhemo Main colliery. In 1954, 63 people were killed in Newton Chikli, near Ranigunj, as a result of inundation. In 1956, 28 people were killed in Baro Dhemo colliery because of inundation. In 1958, 175 people were killed at Chinakuri because of explosion of fire damp. In 1994, 55 people were killed in New Kenda, near Jamuria, as a result of fire/suffocation by gases.
The Baro Dhemo colliery accident, where a large number of people were rescued the mine was inundated with water, provided the inspiration for a theatrical production in Bengali, Angar(1959), directed by Utpal Dutta. The lighting effects by Tapash Sen, which recreated the flooding of a mine on the stage at Kolkata, were notable.
The Head Quarters of the Eastern Coalfields Limited (a subsidiary of Coal India Limited) is situated at Sanctoria which is just 20 kilometres from Asansol.