By Kamal Das
A farmer has a small plot of land in her village. She was struggling to maintain the land as it is far away from her home. Also, agricultural labour is in short supply. She ponders about her future and how she will manage the long trek to her small parcel of land. She is overjoyed when the village Sarpanch informs her that some of her problems will ease soon, thanks to Kisan drones!
In February 2022, the Government of India launched Kisan Drone which would spray fertilisers and pesticides to help farmers. Kisan drones will have a tank with the capacity to carry 5 to 10 kgs of weight. The drone will spray this amount of pesticide or fertiliser over an acre of land in around 15 minutes. The Kisan drones will also help assess crops – and provide suggestions for timely interventions. The drones are also planned to be used to carry farm produce to the markets. While the rich farmers are already using drones, this government initiative will enable small and marginalised farmers to benefit from drone technology as well.
What are drones?
Drones are also called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs. These are aircraft without a human pilot or passengers onboard. These may be controlled by humans or computers remotely. The initial use of drones was in the military. In the book, “Air Power in the Age of Total War”, the author John Buckley suggests that unmanned hot air balloons used in 1949 are the first instance of UAVs. The Austrian army used 200 unmanned hot air balloons to bomb Venice in the war!
While drones have been around in different avatars for over a century, they caught the fancy in India as the student project in the movie 3 idiots (2009). From student projects to Garuda, an eagle-shaped drone in Uri to helping the government deliver better citizen service delivery across India, drones have come a long way!
Drone usage by Government
The government and government agencies are using drones extensively. Drones are also used to survey construction work of roads (for instance,in the Salem-Chennai green corridor expressway project by the National Highways Authority of India or NHAI 3 ), railway tracks (for instance the 25-km long Seawoods-Belapur-Uran corridor) and pipelines. In November 2021, HPCL surveyed its pipeline in Haryana using drones over a 51 km stretch, the longest recorded drone flight in India!
Drones are also used by the government to monitor mining activities and illegal deforestation. State governments like Telangana are using drones for afforestation and aim to plant 50 lakh seeds on 12,000 hectares across the state. Some urban bodies are also using drones to tackle water-borne diseases such as malaria. A simple solution lies in cleaning large water bodies, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes by using drones.
Drones have been used for disaster management and rescue operations in flood operations.
Areas not easily accessible to humans are surveyed by drones. The computer vision and artificial intelligence technology from the drone video feeds identify humans and enable a faster rescue mission, saving many lives in cases of natural disaster. Drones were used as part of the rescue mission after the flash floods in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. Drones have been used to deliver medicines in a flooded village and helped save a baby’s life!
Drones are also being used to digitise land records as part of the SVAMITVA SCHEME or Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas. The scheme aims to establish ownership of property in abadi (inhabited) areas, by mapping land parcels using drone technology. This will enable a clean establishment of a ‘Record of Rights’ for villagers and provide them with clear legal ownership cards (Property cards/Title deeds). A clear set of tiles from SVAMITVA will minimise land disputes and unclog the judiciary. It will also enable farmers to take loans against property to enhance the financialization of the rural economy.
Policy initiatives to promote Drones
The government’s focus on a more liberalised drone regime and move to spur local production of drones has helped the industry 5 . The August 2021 drone policy ushered the way for the growth of the industry. For instance, the number of forms for drones was reduced from 25 to 5. The government has also approved a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for drones and drone components with a budgetary allocation of Rs 120 crore. In February 2022, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) banned the import of foreign drones with certain exceptions to promote their local manufacturing.
The government estimates that the drones and drone components manufacturing industry may see an investment of over Rs 5,000 crore over the next three years. The Civil Aviation Ministry estimates India’s drone sector revenues may grow to Rs. 12,000-15,000 crore by 2026, from about Rs. 80 crore in 2021, or grow by over 150 times in five years! Over 10,000 direct and a significant number of indirect jobs are expected to be created by the drone manufacturing industry.
As a result of these steps, the number of drone start-ups in India has increased by 34.4%, according to Tracxn data. India had 157 drone start-ups in August 2021, and these increased to 211 drone start-ups as of February 2022. Indian drone companies will continue to fly high. We hope these initiatives help usher in a drone revolution in India!