Eight months after its launch, the government’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) surveillance project to track illegal sand mining across the riverbeds has reported 48 per cent success. However, with most of the missions returning unsuccessful due to difficulty in operating after dusk, the Geology & Mining Department is now looking to source drones with infrared capability.
“So far, we have operated about 46 UAV missions. Three teams, which flew these drones, clocked the total flying time of 24.36 hours and helped us get success in 22 missions. By success, we mean that the mission resulted in a fine or FIR or both,” said Roopwant Singh, Commissioner of Geology & Mining Department.
In the 22 successful missions, the department has imposed a penalty of Rs 13.96 crore and filed four FIRs.
According to officials, the UAV missions were flown after the department received “intelligence” about illegal mining happening on the river-beds. However, most of the missions returned without success, especially from the Sabarmati riverbed, as most of the mining activity is happening during the night, officials said.
“Night-time operations are a challenge. The drones are currently equipped with high-intensity lights, which are not adequate to track down illegal-miners after dusk. Moreover, the illegal miners are also tracking our vehicles operating the UAVs, which contributes to a mission failing,” Singh said.
He added that the missions, being operated by a private agency, are given adequate security to conduct operations.
To combat these issues, the department is planning to get drones with infrared vision.
The department has received a proposal from Centre for Aerospace, Madras Institute of Technology, for supplying fixed-wing drones that will also have infrared capability and can operate after night-fall.
“Currently the department is operating quadcopters (a drone controlled by four rotors) which can do only limited hours. We are targeting reconnaissance and surveillance for a longer duration,” he said, adding that the drones with better capability are expected to be procured this year.
“We also do not want to restrict the surveillance project to riverbeds. Next year, we plan to extend it to major leases like limestone, lignite and bauxite,” Singh said.
Apart from surveillance of the river beds and mines, the department is planning to conduct a volumetric analysis of the pits that have already been dug by illegal miners in the rivers.
Sabarmati river will be the first where such a volumetric analysis is being planned.