Drone mapping of forest violations during lockdown begins at SGNP
With increasing cases of encroachments, tree felling and illegal alcohol production inside forest areas in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) during lockdown, the Maharashtra forest department on Monday began to monitor forest areas using drones.
Using one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the department monitored 65 hectares of the Yeoor forest range of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) on Monday, and will be monitoring the boundary of the 86 square kilometre (sqkm) of Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS) till May 26. Thereafter the efforts will be replicated across 103 sqkm of SGNP periphery and 16 sqkm of Aarey Colony, said senior forest officials.
A tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on Monday between the forest department, NGO Yeoor Environmental Society and private company DroneAge Technologies for the provision of using three UAVs – two for TWLS and one for Yeoor – free of cost till May 26.
So far, 1,500 litres of illegally produced alcohol in barrels and tin containers have been destroyed along 25 encroachments at Yeoor during lockdown. However, due to lack of evidence no arrests have been made.
“Using these drones, real time photographic and video evidence of violators carrying out illegal activities in forest areas, including inaccessible zones, will be available. We will follow their movement in and out of protected areas to make arrests and increase deterrence,” said Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest, wildlife (west region). “There was a need for such a strategy as forest violations have increased during lockdown while assistance from police is less since they are busy with Covid-19 operations.”
Apart from addressing tree felling, encroachment removal and illegal country liquor production, drones will be also used to check forest fires, poaching, illegal entry into forest, illegal mining or excavation, keeping watch on water bodies, and movement of wild animals.
Limaye said efforts will also be taken in Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon, even though it is not a protected area. “Photographs of people responsible for illegal tree felling, forest fires, and encroachments have already been collated. As soon as the lockdown is over, using this evidence we will track down violators with the help of the police, Aarey and Film City administration,” said Limaye. “Based on the success in Mumbai, the strategy will be implemented across all protected areas along western Maharashtra.”
A control room to monitor drone movement has been setup at Yeoor forest office near Madhuban Gate on Monday. The timing for drone operation is being withheld by the department to ensure violators are not aware of the movement of UAVs. “Apart from reducing the time spent in field surveillance by 80%, it will also ensure safety of forest personnel while catching violators on the act,” said Rohit Joshi, founder, Yeoor Environmental Society who had proposed the strategy.