Fetters of drone use hamper survey of quarries

Fetters of drone use hamper survey of quarries

The government says it has floated a Rs 1.5-crore tender to select a drone company to survey 62 B-category mines in three districts.

After repeatedly ignoring the use of drones for official, exploratory work, the government is finally moving to expand the use of unmanned vehicles to survey quarries across the state.

A Rs 10-crore tender was issued to enlist several drone companies to survey 2,155 quarries to determine their precise measurements, said C P Prasannakumar, head of the Department of Mines and Geology. The survey work is currently on.

“Each district has got the services of at least one drone company,” he said.

A source in the drone industry, however, disputed whether the state even had the adequate number of drones to carry out such a task. 

“We have a bureaucracy disinterested in drones. This is compounded by high import costs of parts from China, high operating costs and the NPNT (no-permission-no-takeoff) rule which prohibits the flying of drones without prior permission of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA),” he said.

According to several drone operators, the NPNT is creating an environment of illegality, because out of the two dozen drone companies operating in the state, just three startups have been cleared by the DGCA to conduct flights.

Nevertheless, the government said it has floated a Rs 1.5-crore tender to select a drone company headquartered in the state to survey 62 B-category mines in three districts - Ballari, Tumakuru and Chitradurga.

A source said that 10 companies have applied for the B-category mines tender, which could lead to the aerial survey work to start in two-three months. However, according to Prasannakumar, selection of the vendor is stalled because of problems with the e-portal.

Vipul Singh, whose company Aarav Unmanned Systems is among those vying for the mining survey contract, said there are only about 25 drone companies in the state, with 150 drones between them.

“Government drone use is Karnataka is minimal compared to Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala,” he explained, adding that the state's requirement for new drones is in the thousands.

'Illegal' drones

There are 500-600 “illegal” drones being operated by private citizens in the state, Singh added, specifying that these are “illegal” in the sense that they do not conform to the official government regulation regarding unmanned aerial vehicles, which was introduced on December 1, 2018.

In April 2019, when the Rotary Club sought to enlist the services of a drone company to sow seed balls in rural areas of the state over a 15-day period, using at least 30 drones, the cost of the operation - Rs 1 crore - plus the unavailability of drones, resulted in the project being dropped.