The Union Ministry of Civil Aviation has given permission to the Rajasthan government’s Agriculture Department to use remotely piloted aircraft systems for anti-locust operations in the large areas where the insect swarms have landed. The locust attack has affected about 90,000 hectares in 20 districts of the State.
In an order, the Ministry said that the conditional exemption to use drones would be limited to equipment deployed by the nodal agency for aerial surveillance, aerial photography, public announcements and aerial spray of insecticide. Details of the drone flights and pesticide sprayed will be provided to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The drones will not be flown over eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, according to the order. Moreover, the drone operations will be restricted to the period between sunrise and sunset. They will also not be used in adverse weather conditions such as heavy winds, rain, dust storms and low visibility.
State Agriculture Commissioner Om Prakash told The Hindu on Thursday that the deployment of a drone on a trial basis in Jaipur district’s Samod village had proved the utility of the equipment in reaching difficult and inaccessible terrains. “Drones can spray insecticide at the height and in places where regular sprayers cannot reach. They can kill locusts which are perched on high trees these days,” he said.
Dr. Prakash said though the drones were not as effective as sprayers, which are usually mounted on tractors and fire tenders, they would be useful as an “additional support” for sprinkling the chemicals on the locust swarms at places like foothills and sand dunes. A drone can spray pesticide on a nearly 2.5-acre area during a flight of 15 minutes.
The Agriculture Department has floated tenders for engaging 30 drones for locust control in the State. Dr. Prakash said the insects were landing on trees and foraging on leaves primarily because of lack of vegetation in agricultural fields after the rabi crop harvesting. They are likely to come down when they find greenery on the land.
The Agriculture Commissioner said the locust control operations had been carried out in an area measuring 67,000 acres across the State. There was no major damage to agriculture because of the absence of standing crops, but the cotton crop in 4,000 hectares in Sriganganagar disrict and 100 hectares in Nagaur has been destroyed.
Over 800 sprayers-mounted tractors and 50 fire tenders have been pressed into service for locust control. Dr. Prakash said that about 200 teams were involved in daily survey of the affected areas and the farmers were being supplied with high-intensity insecticide free of cost.
The swarms of tropical grasshoppers, which have been crossing over to Rajasthan from the India-Pakistan border since April 11, have since moved towards other areas in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and even reached the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra. The Delhi government has also issued an advisory on preventive measures to control a probable locust attack.