In a first, the Madhya Pradesh forest department will deploy drones to take on the mining mafia, illegal loggers and encroachers of forest land. “Orders for five drones have been placed and they will be used in Gwalior, Morena, Vidisha, Burhanpur and Guna. All district forest officers will be given drones in stages to monitor their area,” said additional chief principal conservator of forest (Protection) B K Mishra. While Gwalior and Morena are infamous for illegal stone and sand mining respectively, Vidisha has reported several cases of illegal tree felling, while Burhanpur and Guna are a headache due to cases of encroachments, say officials.Sources in the department said that illegal mining on forest land is rampant in Madhya Pradesh, especially in the Gwalior-Chambal area where sand and stone poachers are armed and attack forest officials when confronted.Officials said that the idea of deploying drones to assist their field staff dates back to September 2018, when a deputy ranger was run over by a tractor trolley carrying illegal sand in the Ghirona area of Morena and two forest guards were shot at when they tried to stop illegal stone mining in the Thigra area of Gwalior.“Every year, at least two of our men are killed and over a 100 injured, some of them seriously when confronting mining mafia, encroachers or illegal tree-loggers,” says Singh.In most such cases, forest department officials are outnumbered by the mining mafia. “The drones will give us a clear picture of the magnitude of the threat so that we can take an adequately equipped force with us,” said Mishra.According to forest department statistics for the previous five years, attempts have been made to encroach nearly 10,000 hectares of forest land. Illegal tree felling is also rampant: in 2017 over 220,000 trees were cut. There is no accurate data on the extent of illegal mining but 666 cases of illegal mining were registered in 2018. But be it mining or felling, official concede that they are able to detect only 20 per cent of the cases.According to the State of the Forest Report 2017, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country with 85,487 sq km of forest and tree cover accounting for 27.73 per cent of the state’s total area. That, in turn, accounts for 10.66 per cent of India’s overall tree and forest cover.