Covid-19: Drones drive surveillance in Delhi’s containment zones

Coronavirus Update: From chasing violators of the prohibitory orders, enforcing social distancing on the roads and spraying disinfectants, Delhi police and civic agencies have adopted drones as an extension of their forces. Police are using drones extensively to watch at ration shops, banks and religious places in every subdivision, where people gather.
Municipal corporation workers equip a disinfectant pack to a drone, to sanitise narrow lanes and hot spots to prevent the spread of Covid-19.(Sanchit Khanna / HT File)
Municipal corporation workers equip a disinfectant pack to a drone, to sanitise narrow lanes and hot spots to prevent the spread of Covid-19.(Sanchit Khanna / HT File)
Updated on Apr 11, 2020 08:14 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAnvit Srivastava and Baishali Adak

As a drone hovered over a narrow lane in east Delhi’s Dilshad Garden, a group of men loitering the lanes ran inside their houses, while those standing outside a ration shop quickly queued up ensuring adequate distance among one another.

Parts of Dilshad Garden, one of the first coronavirus (Covid-19) hot spots in the country, have been sealed to contain the spread of the pandemic.

From chasing violators of the prohibitory orders, enforcing social distancing on the roads and spraying disinfectants, the city police and civic agencies have adopted drones as an extension of their forces.

The world has taken a cue from China’s use of drones for surveys and deliveries, and agricultural drones for a variety of purposes during the Covid-19 pandemic, as early as February 2020. Several European and central Asian countries, such as France, Italy and Kazakhstan have since modified drones to remotely identify lockdown violators in crowded areas and also installed public announcement (PA) systems on drones. In India, Madhya Pradesh’s Indore was among the first to use drones to spray disinfectant, followed by Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

In central Delhi’s Karol Bagh, civic officials were busy filling a drone with disinfectant to conduct an “aerial spray”, as the corporation’s large 3,000-litre tankers could not easily be manoeuvred in the narrow by-lanes.

Officials of the Delhi Police and civic agencies say the drones are a success.

The deputy commissioner of police, Shahdara, Dinesh Gupta, said that drones come in handy at locations with high population density, where keeping a watch on residents is not easy.

“At present, there are at least 12 coronavirus positive cases from my area. Because it is a sensitive area, with five containment zones (two in Dilshad Garden and one each in GTB Enclave, Dilshad Colony and Vivek Vihar), at least 12 people had to be prosecuted for violating the lockdown in the last five days, due to which we started surveillance using drones. We have three drones that cover these five areas. We are also using the drones to make public announcements,” Gupta said.

He said because congested and densely populated areas like Seemapuri and Shahdara also come under his jurisdiction, keeping a watch on residents in every lane isn’t an easy task. “This is where our drones take charge. We have seen that the moment a drone takes flight, people start returning to their houses. Those who are sitting on terraces get inside, people at shops start maintaining a queue at an adequate distance and those loitering also hurry indoors. ,” Gupta said.

Police are using drones extensively to watch at ration shops, banks and religious places in every subdivision, where people gather.

Deputy commissioner of police, central, Sanjay Bhatia, who is using a drone to keep a vigil on dense pockets of Daryaganj, Chawri Bazar, Chandi Mahal, Karol Bagh, Rajindra Nagar, Paharganj and Kamla Market, said that they have not prosecuted anyone, based on drone surveillance, but detain 100-150 people every day.

“Our police teams accompany the drone handler, who is a civilian, for his security. Once the drone captures a violation, we either take a screenshot and alert local staff or immediately rush our Covid Bike Patrol squad to the spot. Those caught out on the streets are sent home with a warning, after proper verification. Roughly, since Day one, we have detained more than 2,000 violators,” Bhatia said.

Even in south Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, one of Delhi’s largest unauthorised colonies, where lane number 5, 6 and 7 in block L1 have been declared as one of the two containment zones in south Delhi, police are detaining at least 200-300 lockdown violators every day. “On Thursday, we detained more than 200 violators who were caught in our drone cameras. Since Day one of the lockdown, we have detained at least 3,000 violators in Sangam Vihar alone. Roughly, around the same number of people were caught in Hauz Rani, the second containment zone. The number of detainees who were caught solely with the help of a drone is much higher for the entire district. Action under the DP Act, IPC sections and DM Act is ensured against the violators,” Thakur said.

Flying drones is prohibited in Delhi because of security risks. Only government agencies are allowed to use it. “Initially, some of our officers complained that children threw stones. But now, everyone knows that if the flying objects is used by the government,” a police official said.

The police and civic agencies used the drones in Delhi’s Nizamuddin, another containment zone. A six-storey building in the area, the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, has emerged as the largest Covid -19 hot spot, with cases from across India being traced back to gatherings at the Markaz. While Nizamuddin Basti and Nizamuddin West have been cordoned off by the police, the civic agency is continuing its work of aerially spraying disinfectants.

“The solution (1% Sodium Hypochlorite in water) is strong enough to emulsify the lipid (fatty) outer layer of the coronavirus, which is 900 times smaller than the width of human hair, through its soap-like action. However, it’s too weak to harm humans,” said Dr Deepak Mittal, deputy health officer (DHO) with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).

Dr Ashok Rawat, municipal health officer (MHO) of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, said that using drones for aerial spraying is better because the nozzle of the drone turns it into mist form, due to which no significant quantity of the liquid falls on any one person. “It will only effectively sanitise the air and kill any coronavirus particles on surfaces like tin sheds, doors and walls.”

The private company that has lent its drones to the north civic body said these were originally ‘agricultural application drones’ used to spray pesticide on crops. Prashant Pillai, co-founder of the Indian Robotics Solution Pvt. Ltd, said, “There are few food crops like sugarcane, which go up to 20 feet in height. Spraying pesticide on them manually is not possible. That’s where these drones, with carrier boxes of up to 10 litres capacity, help. In the Covid-19 scenario, China first modified these drones to carry disinfectants, followed by South Korea and then other countries.”

Explaining how the civic agency used drones in Nizamuddin, the SDMC’s leader of the house, Kamaljeet Sehrawat, said, “We were under tremendous pressure to sanitise the entire area in a short span of time. Besides, many by-lanes of the Nizamuddin Basti are narrow and our large tankers could not enter. We have deployed hundreds of backpack sprayers; but for them to do it manually, it would have taken ages. That’s why we went for drones.”

Ujjawal Kumar Mishra, who works for Idea Forge Tech Pvt Ltd, which helps Delhi Police operate drones, said that when fully charged, a drone can fly for up to 30 to 40 minutes on one battery. “We keep spare batteries depending on the duration it is needed for. From one spot, we can cover up to 800 metres in high-definition, and drones can reach a height of 400 metres. We use cameras with 10x optical feature, through which we can zoom from one spot and capture high definition images without lowering the drone.”

Delhi Police said that while they are currently hiring drones, they plan to buy the machines and train personnel as handlers.

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