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India to Become a Hub for Drone Technology

India aims to become a hub for drone technology for which it will require at least 100,000 drone pilots by next year, according to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Anurag Singh Thakur.

Thakur highlighted several ways drone technology is being applied in India, including the SWAMITVA (Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) Scheme, which uses drones to survey land and houses. The scheme provides citizens in far-flung areas the right to document their residential properties so that they can use their property for economic purposes. Drones are also being used in the agricultural sector to sprinkle pesticides and nano fertilizers under the Kisan Drone Yatra project. 100 Kisan drones have been sent to villages across the country to spray pesticides. The drone technology could add US$ 3 billion to the agriculture sector in 2023, benefitting 100 million farmers, Thakur explained.

During the pandemic, the city of Varanasi used drones to spray sanitiser around COVID-19-sensitive parts under the Smart Cities Mission (SCM). The drones were specially airlifted from Chennai through cargo flights with permission from the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA). The drone team would first visit the area planned to be sanitised for the day, make a quick visual survey of the terrain, buildings, and surroundings, and then chalk out a flight path to be followed by the drone.

The drone was filled with a chemical solution (consisting of 1% sodium hypochlorite), calibrated, and then set to fly. The drones were flown using a remote-control device by experienced drone pilots in the planned flight path.

Similarly, last year, MoCA allowed the state government of Telangana to conduct experimental beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights to deliver COVID-19 vaccines. Authorities had exempted the state from Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) rules. This was part of India’s constant endeavour to enhance the scope of drone usage in the country and assist the nation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as OpenGov Asia reported. The BVLOS trials helped create the regulatory framework for drone deliveries and other major applications.

In 2021, MoCA and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) granted a conditional exemption to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to deploy drones to live stream the India Cricket Season.

In March this year, the National Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (NMDC), the country’s biggest iron ore public sector enterprise, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur (IIT-Kharagpur) for drone-based mineral excavation. The two organisations have developed software, products, methods, and algorithms for mineral exploration using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) as well as capacity-building training programmes on mining technology.

In May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s biggest drone festival – the Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022, where he interacted with Kisan drone pilots. There are currently over 200 drone start-ups operating in the country. The figure will increase over the next few years, generating thousands of new job opportunities for the youth. The government has said that employment opportunities worth IN 60 billion (US$ 727 million) a year could be created in the drone sector.

Thakur noted that drone technology has come to play an important role in defence, agriculture, health, and entertainment. The government strives to further boost the demand for cutting-edge drone technology and services through a three-pronged approach:

  • Implementing effective policies, for example, the Drone Rules, 2021
  • Providing incentives through PLI for drones and drone components
  • Creating indigenous demand, which will be overseen by 12 central ministries
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