Assam-like drone test can be tried in Meghalaya: Experts

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UAVs can provide real-time info on mining, deforestation

GUWAHATI, May 21: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones can help Meghalaya find answers to burning issues such as illegal mining, deforestation and encroachment along the border, experts say.
Drones backed up by a comprehensive implementation mechanism can surely help monitor and safeguard Meghalaya’s natural resources. Surveillance and evaluation of data apart, the challenge here is the task of implementation and action once the data is converted to realtime information,” Naba Bhattacharjee, chairman, State Expert Appraisal Committee on environment for Meghalaya nominated by the ministry of environment and forests, told The Shillong Times on Tuesday.
The state does not have to look too far though. The forest department in neighbouring Assam has over the past three months been experimenting with a drone and with unprecedented success. Reports say precious resources have been protected as the incidence of encroachment, illegal mining and tree felling in Cachar forest division has come down drastically since the UAV was used.
Even as the National Green Tribunal has banned coal mining in Meghalaya since 2014, unscientic extraction of coal from interior, and at times, almost inaccessible rat-hole mines has continued thereafter, with many a fatal mishap reported in the past five years.
Rampant cutting of trees for firewood/commercial uses is another common malpractice while the issue of border encroachment has plagued the state for long.
The drones can help the authorities verify whether the environment management plan or environment impact assessment submitted by project proponents before the start of a project is in accordance with the norms of the environment and forest ministry.
“The information gathered from UAVs can help the environment ministry decipher whether information given by the project proponents is in accordance with the prescribed plan for environment clearance or whether there are any deviations in the plan submitted by the project proponent,” Bhattacharjee said.
According to the Environment Protection Act, it is mandatory for project proponents to acquire environment clearance from the ministry before activities such as mining of any natural resource/mineral, stone quarrying, construction of road through forest areas/quarrying, etc.
“Mining and environment plans submitted by project proponents are assessed and evaluated with the help of data collected by the drone. If there are safeguards to be taken, then the project proponent is accordingly instructed,” he added.
On the effectiveness of UAVs in detecting such unlawful activities in a hilly state like Meghalaya, a state forest official here agreed that in areas with dense forest cover, the accuracy levels of the drones could be tested though.
“Drones prove to be more effective in open areas as against detecting activities in areas hidden by forest canopy where the cameras might not be able to penetrate and record accurate images. But yes, they can surely be tried in Meghalaya,” he said.  (Courtesy: TST)