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Centre allows use of drones to control locusts

As locust swarms make inroads into the interiors of Rajasthan, Punjab and even parts of Madhya Pradesh, the Centre on Thursday allowed the conditional use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), better known as drones, for spraying pesticides to curb the dreaded pest.

Conditional permission

The Ministry of Civil Aviation issued an order granting ‘conditional exemption’ for the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare to carry out the anti-locust operations. The Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage (DPPQS), Faridabad, under the Agriculture Ministry has been made the nodal agency for the anti-locust operations.

DPPQS may operate its own RPAs or engage third party service providers. The conditional exemption will be limited to the drones deployed by the nodal agency for aerial surveillance, aerial photography, public announcement and spraying of anti-locust pesticides. Also, the exemption shall be limited to battery operated rotary-wing RPAs only. Use of any other type of RPAs is strictly prohibited, it said.

Each operation of RPA has to be carried out under the supervision and control of the nodal agency. The nodal agency has to upload details of every RPA flight including details of pesticide, sprayed quantity and area covered among others on DGCA’s Digital Sky Platform, it said.

The government’s move to allow the use of drones to control the spread of locusts assumes significance as the pests are seen taking new flight path to the non-scheduled desert areas, threatening vegetation and summer crops in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, said Bhagirath Chaudhary, Director, South Asia Biotechnology Centre.

“Spraying of pesticides using drones is considered highly effective over traditional methods such as tractor mounted spray and fire brigade among others, as it can help kill the swarm of pests in resting position. Also, the government should look at using safer chemical molecules such as Deltamethrin over the widely used Melathion,” he added.

Per the Agriculture Ministry, the scheduled area for locust in the country is spread across 2.05 lakh sq km, mainly in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana. In Rajasthan alone, the locust area is estimated at 1.79 lakh sq km. According to the latest locust bulletin by the Ministry, in the first fortnight of May, the immature adult groups/swarms were observed at Barmer, Jodhpur, Phalodi, Bikaner, Nagaur and Ganganagar in about 342 locations.

The spot control operations were undertaken at 213 spots, covering 21,675 hectares. The Food and Agriculture Organisation in its update on May 13 highlighted the risk of swarms migrating to the summer breeding areas on both sides of Indo-Pak border from breeding areas in Baluchistan and the Indus Valley.

Drone versatality

According to Anup Sharma, Convenor, Aviation Technology Forum of India, drone technology should be leveraged to address the twin challenges of food security and climate change in the agriculture sector.

“Necessary exemption should be granted to government agricultural departments from NPNT and digital sky restrictions for drone operations. Additionally, the responsibility to ensure compliance with mandated safety and security provisions of the drone policy by drone service providers should rests on the government agencies that are engaging their services,” he said.

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