Drones the New Weapon in India’s Crackdown on Illegal Mining

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India's mines ministry has told state governments to explore the use of drones to check illegal mining, as officials crackdown on an activity that has led to deforestation and the use of child labour.

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Nov 2  – India’s mines ministry has told state governments to explore the use of drones to check illegal mining, as officials crackdown on an activity that has led to deforestation and the use of child labour.

A satellite-based mining surveillance system was launched last month, and the ministry is now exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to curb instances of illegal mining, said a notification dated Nov. 1.

Drones can be used to monitor illegal mining activities, check for activity at night and to track illegal truck movements, said Prithul Kumar, a director at the ministry of mines, in the note.

They can also monitor whether reclamation has been done as committed when a mine is closed, and calculate the extent of the green cover, it said.

Drones are increasingly being used around the world to check illegal activities and to survey damage to the environment. In Panama, indigenous people are using drones to monitor deforestation on their lands.

In India, Uttarakhand state began using drones recently to check illegal quarrying, while western Maharashtra state has recently deployed drones to check illegal sand mining.

Illegal mines in the country often hire child workers and migrant workers who are poorly paid and have few protections, activists say.

Authorities recently raided mica mines in Jharkhand state after a Thomson Reuters Foundation expose revealed a cover-up of child deaths in illegal mica mining.

But drones alone won’t stop illegal mining or prevent worker abuses, said Rana Sengupta, chief executive of the non-profit Mine Labour Protection Campaign in Rajasthan state.

“Drones can show you the extent of the problem, but if the intent is to check illegal mining, you need to involve the villages and local communities in the area,” said Sengupta.

“We already have the capability to use satellite images to see where illegal mining is taking place. Villagers can be your eyes and ears far more effectively in preventing the activity than drones,” he said.

Research has shown securing rights for indigenous communities and forest dwellers helps protect resources and conserve the environment.

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